While it's impossible to foresee how growth and expansion will affect your network and security requirements, making a wise investment is still possible. Regardless of your configuration, a firewall still serves as the critical inspection point for all network traffic. The right firewall will help prepare your business for growth by consolidating the number of products you must manage, reducing costs and cycles, and making the overall management of your network infrastructure more effortless and cost-efficient.
The challenge is sifting through the vast array of firewall options to find the best one for your organization now and that can grow with you as your organization and network expand. So, what questions do you need to consider when choosing a firewall for your business? Here are some critical considerations:
As anyone can tell you, throughput demands are a moving target. Yesterday's ultraperformance is today's baseline requirement. As the volume and maturity of users, devices, and applications increase, bandwidth demands naturally intensify. Your firewall must be able to quickly identify applications, scale to process and secure increasing network traffic demands, especially now as most traffic is encrypted hitting 95% as estimated by Google’s latest Transparency report. Decrypting SSL including the latest TLS1.3, is the key to identify bad actors hiding in those encrypted paths.
Generic CPUs were never developed to perform specialized inspection, analysis, correlation, and response tasks modern firewalls need to deliver—including things like performing deep inspection of encrypted traffic that can quickly overwhelm generic CPUs. Just as advanced graphics demand specialized GPUs to render rich video streams, the increasingly sophisticated technologies and tactics used by today's cybercriminals demand more processing power. Effectively analyzing streaming traffic in real-time requires a much more specialized and intensive process that most firewalls cannot deliver.
The second issue is longevity. Selecting a firewall should be a long-term investment. But even though most businesses expect their technology to last two to four years, over half end up purchasing additional tools and workarounds every one to two years to either fill gaps in their existing solution or compensate for creeping performance issues according to research. The best rule of thumb is to make an educated guess about your bandwidth requirements in three years, double it, and then select a firewall that is very comfortable with securing that volume of traffic.
Your firewall serves as the critical inspection point for all network traffic. And in today's application-centric business environment, performance is vital. Unfortunately, few firewalls were designed to meet the digital performance needs of today's small businesses. Getting one fast enough is almost always cost-prohibitive. Performance is determined by the device's central processing unit (CPU) and its alignment with its underlying operating system. Therefore, a key consideration is whether its CPU can support the specialized functions of high-performance security inspection or if it's built around generic processors being asked to do something they weren't designed to do.
Multivendor: A multivendor, best-of-breed strategy is not wrong. But it is more complex. Look for solutions built using common standards and open APIs to reduce the time and effort required to develop and maintain workarounds to help discrete solutions operate more like a system. And if not managed correctly, vendor sprawl can render your entire security environment less effective by fragmenting visibility and control, especially when security devices deployed at different network edges struggle to share threat intelligence. Cybercriminals are experts at finding and exploiting security gaps and areas of weakness. Such gaps are most commonly due to misconfigurations and a lack of interoperability and deep integration between security products.
Single vendor: Solutions provided by a single vendor, especially when supported by a common OS, can significantly reduce deployment time, simplify management, and improve operational efficiency. Centralized orchestration also helps eliminate configuration errors and reduce the potential for human error. But perhaps the most significant advantage is that a deeply integrated system is the only way to implement the automation needed for instant threat detection and remediation. The challenge is that many single-vendor platforms often include sub-par components that diminish the effectiveness of the entire system. Look for vendors who regularly put each security element through rigorous, public testing and that publish specs based on real-world conditions so you can make fair comparisons between solutions.
While most firewalls include nice-to-have features vendors promote to differentiate their solution, you need to focus on the fundamentals. If those don't meet your requirements, none of the bells and whistles are worth your time or money. At a minimum, your firewall must provide:
A security framework, where every component is designed to work together as an integrated fabric from the beginning, enhances the sharing of threat intelligence and indicators of compromise to better detect and automatically respond to threats quickly and accurately. The right firewall solution should operate seamlessly within a comprehensive security framework that can span and adapt to your evolving needs.
Choosing the right firewall provides the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your security works now and will continue to protect and sustain your business in the future—even as technologies and business strategies continue to evolve. Additionally, working with a vendor who understands your needs now and tomorrow ensures longevity, prevents unnecessary workarounds, and avoids the rip and replace conversations down the road that can derail a business.
Find out how the Fortinet Security Fabric is the industry’s highest-performing cybersecurity platform, powered by FortiOS, with a rich open ecosystem delivering broad, integrated, and automated protection across an organization’s entire digital attack surface.
Curious to learn more? Check out our Firewall Buyer’s Guide now.