5min. read

Enterprises are increasingly turning to software-defined wide-area networks, or SD-WANs, to reduce costs, improve the user experience and strengthen connectivity to and from the cloud. SD-WANs are particularly valuable for branch offices because they not only significantly cut bandwidth costs, but also allow IT and security teams to gain greater visibility and control. With that comes the potential for vast improvement in cybersecurity protections.

The research firm IDC notes that SD-WAN continues to be one of the hottest segments of the enterprise networking market, with compound annual revenues growing at a rate of 30.8% through 2023, when the market is expected to reach $5.25 billion. IDC says one of the key factors is that traditional enterprise WANs are “not meeting the needs of today’s modern digital business, especially as it relates to supporting SaaS apps and multi- and hybrid-cloud usage.”

With traditional WAN solutions on the decline, what is it about SD-WAN technology that makes it so important in empowering today’s cloud environments?

1. SD-WAN Improves the User Experience

Delivering a great user experience is paramount in today’s era of digital transformation and workplace modernization. Savvy companies realize it’s not just about delivering this experience to customers; it’s also about making sure employees have a great experience wherever they are located.

Unlike MPLS connections, SD-WANs don’t require a backhaul to a data center, so they allow branch offices to connect more easily to the Internet. This translates into better performance, lower latency and higher performing connectivity. It also reduces the time and effort required to set up and manage branch offices, so users have access to applications faster. And as more organizations embrace big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, SD-WAN makes it easier to deliver intelligence to branch offices because data is closer to the edge.

2. SD-WAN Simplifies Operations

IDC says one of the key factors behind SD-WAN market growth is that “enterprises are interested in easier management of multiple connection types across their WAN to improve application performance and end-user experience.” SD-WAN lets enterprises utilize a variety of transport services, including MPLS, VPN and LTE, using routing policies. This means IT and networking teams don’t have to reconfigure devices.

SD-WAN leverages automation to simplify cloud connectivity, while offering centralized control through a scalable SD-WAN hub. This makes it easier to onboard new users and remote offices. Plus, with the right solution, you can add SD-WAN at your own pace, using any combination of cloud and on-premises deployment models, so your teams don’t have to rip and replace what’s already there.

3. SD-WAN Reduces Branch Office Costs

The older paradigm of backhauling traffic from branch offices to the data center and back again is not only a performance drain, it’s also expensive. IT teams need equipment on site, which requires capital expense and additional operations/personnel costs. Plus, you pay a lot to use MPLS connections from telecom carriers. SD-WAN dramatically reduces bandwidth costs and does not demand nearly the same commitment in either hardware or IT personnel.

4. SD-WAN Empowers Multi-Cloud Environments

Face it, we are in a multi-cloud world. If yours is like the average enterprise, you are using four to five different clouds for a wide range of services. It’s all about your business – with the cloud you can be faster, more agile, cost-efficient and innovative. SD-WAN makes it much simpler to manage your multi-cloud environment, and to support the connectivity your branch offices need to leverage the clouds of their choice.

With the right SD-WAN solution you can limit dependence on the congested public Internet, while centralizing control, management and visibility of branch office connectivity to the cloud.

5. SD-WAN Can Vastly Strengthen Cybersecurity

I made it this far without focusing too much on cybersecurity, but careful readers of Cybersecurity perspectives know this is where all roads eventually lead. One of the important reasons behind the popularity of SD-WAN is that it enables major improvements in cybersecurity while also reducing costs, simplifying operations, etc. With SD-WAN, IT and security teams can gain holistic visibility and control over connectivity, provided they use the right solutions.

In the past, connectivity has been the driver behind SD-WAN; moving forward, security will be the driver.

That means using solutions like a Zero Trust architecture and native security, leveraging a central management hub that combines connectivity and security for a holistic view. IT and security teams protect against all types of attacks in branch offices, using rich security data, automation, threat intelligence and machine learning.

When any technology is growing at a rate of more than 30%, you can expect it will make significant contributions to your business and to your long-term strategic goals. SD-WAN is such a technology. It can put you on the path towards safer and more secure use of the Internet. Trust me, that is a path you want to take.

Sean Duca is Vice President, Regional Chief Security Officer, Asia Pacific and Japan, for Palo Alto Networks.