SD-WAN solutions have become increasingly popular as organizations demand fast, scalable, and flexible connectivity to and between different network environments. The objective of any SD-WAN deployment is to establish and maintain a high user experience while lowering the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) for connections between remote offices and users and business-critical resources and applications. But as with most technologies, the wrong SD-WAN solution can significantly inhibit an organization’s ability to quickly adapt to changing business demands, rather than accelerate them. And the most significant challenge is that the wrong SD-WAN solution can introduce serious security challenges that can bring the entire system to a screeching halt.
Because SD-WAN can enable organizations to compete more effectively and efficiently in today’s global marketplace, it is critical to understand what differentiates a Secure SD-WAN solution from the more generic set of technologies and services described as SD-WAN. Secure SD-WAN consolidates advanced routing with advanced security capabilities into a single, integrated solution that can be controlled using a single management and orchestration interface. This provides a level of protection and flexibility that is simply not possible when an IT team is forced to deploy security as an afterthought overlay running on top of SD-WAN functionality.
But there’s another aspect to Secure SD-WAN that’s sometimes overlooked in the industry-wide rush to categorize and market the technology: Secure SD-WAN is also self-healing.
The global market for SD-WAN is expected to grow from $1.9 billion in 2020 to $8.4 billion by 2025. This represents a compound annual growth rate above 34%. And it’s easy to understand why: SD-WAN solutions transform an organization’s capabilities by combining a corporate wide area network with multi-cloud connectivity to deliver high-speed application performance at the WAN Edge of distributed sites, including branch offices, remote locations, and even remote super users.
One big benefit of SD-WAN is that it provides dynamic path selection across a range of connectivity options—MPLS, 4G/5G, or broadband—ensuring that organizations can not only quickly and easily access business-critical applications from the cloud, but also maintain the integrity of those connections even when the underlying infrastructure is unstable or unreliable. This is important for organizations that need fast, scalable, and flexible connectivity across different network environments—and even across different regions, while simultaneously reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) and preserving user experience. That is the job of SD-WAN. The problem occurs when security is included in the mix. Unless security is seamlessly integrated with the networking and connectivity functions of the SD-WAN solution, it is forced to constantly catch-up to changes in connections and protocols. This can leave organizations exposed to security gaps, slow down the proper inspection of encrypted traffic, and reduce productivity and user experience – essentially undermining the entire objective of deploying an SD-WAN solution in the first place.
The Internet is unpredictable, and network outages—no matter how robust the WAN infrastructure is thought to be—are sometimes unavoidable. Unreliable connectivity is a serious challenge, especially for large and distributed enterprises that span multiple countries and regions that grapple with internet impairment on a regular basis. But smaller businesses can experience the same challenge, especially if service providers don’t properly manage bandwidth loads during periods of high usage.
If an SD-WAN solution has to be reconfigured or manually intervened-upon every time there’s a wider internet connectivity issue, many attendant benefits of SD-WAN technology become negligible. Likewise, if security needs to be reconfigured every time a significant change on connectivity occurs—or even if there is a lag in protection while security scrambles to reconfigure itself—all of the advantages of an SD-WAN solution are compromised.
Fortunately, the best SD-WAN solutions are designed to bridge gaps in internet reliability to deliver exceptional application performance. How? By quickly self-healing when an outage or disruption impacts connectivity by switching to an alternative transport model. And when security and connectivity are fully integrated, as is the case with a Secure SD-WAN solution, security dynamically adjusts policies and configurations simultaneously with connectivity changes, even if switching to another transport model.
SD-WAN should simplify operations, reduce cost, and deliver exceptional user experience. To achieve this, however, it must also provide, reliable, secure, and optimized connectivity. And crucial to this is having an SD-WAN solution in place that can support high availability for failovers, auto-correct network impairments using remediation techniques and advanced analytics, and do both of these as effectively in multi-cloud environments as in other use cases. And never, even for a moment, should security ever be forced to try and catch up after the fact.
In order to remediate problems related to connectivity—and therefore self-heal—SD-WAN solutions must be able to proactively measure network conditions such as latency, jitter, and packet loss on any WAN link. From there, businesses can tie in policies with application SLAs that help determine how to steer network traffic based on the best-performing WAN links.
But what if more than one supposedly viable WAN link is still performing poorly? Think of how fast user experience can crumble for critical applications such as unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) when even a bit of network connectivity is impaired. Rather than sacrificing user experience, organizations should adopt SD-WAN solutions that use advanced techniques such as forward error correction and packet duplication—on top of SLA-based path steering—to quickly recover.
More advanced Secure SD-WAN solutions use artificial application learning powered by AI to detect and prioritize UCaaS and other connectivity-intensive cloud applications, so they are always directed over the best possible path for traffic forwarding. Bandwidth plays such a critical role in determining what that best available path is, so an effective Secure SD-WAN solution should be designed to take the guesswork out of finding it by choosing the best available, highest-performing WAN link at any time. And, of course, ensure that security is part of the process.
All enterprise network infrastructure teams know that anomalies can affect network performance, often without warning. Teams must be able to rapidly investigate network anomalies, assess them against the current and historical network information using run-time reports, and use those reports to make quick resolutions to business policy and application priority. Performing these tasks becomes a much simpler process with centralized orchestration that can provide the advanced analytics and telemetry needed for a granular view of network and application performance. Centralized orchestration should also be able to unify networking and security functions so that traffic is never unsecured, and secure traffic never compromises performance. Self-healing SD-WAN capabilities include this kind of rapid change management and do so at scale.
Layers of redundancy are required to ensure that SD-WAN connections don’t fail. To make this possible, organizations should look to solutions that offer device redundancy during a network failure, WAN transport redundancy with multi-link support, and port redundancy with redundant interfaces. The right monitoring capabilities will also allow IT teams to quickly identify points of failure in WAN transport, interfaces, or appliances and enable sub-section application traffic switchover as needed. Such switchover capability is critical to self-healing the network in the case of an outage.
With the right Secure SD-WAN solution in place, network engineering and operations leaders have the extensive range of WAN capabilities they need to ensure applications are available and functioning without human intervention—and that those connections are always protected against increasingly sophisticated attacks and attackers. Team priorities—even with IT resource constraints—can then shift toward future-proofing the network and ensuring fast, reliable, scalable, and consistent outcomes for employees and customers everywhere.
Take a security-driven approach to networking to improve user experience and simplify operations at the WAN edge with Fortinet’s Secure SD-WAN solution.