Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) is an innovative, prevailing digital technology emphasizing performance, agility, and security within a multifunctional network. SD-WAN enables organizations to connect remote sites, data centers, and cloud resources while reducing the cost of traditional WAN networks, concurrently bolstering their efficiency and long-term viability.

For these reasons, SD-WAN has quickly become an essential component of many networks’ digital transformation strategies and security infrastructure. These trends show little sign of slowing as more companies embrace the benefits of SD-WAN.

So what is SD-WAN security? Read on for an in-depth look this technology, including its primary components, practical applications, and architectural advantages  – as well as the potential challenges driving its continued growth.

What is SD-WAN Security?

In many ways, SD-WAN is an evolutionary successor to WAN networks, expanding upon the latter’s primary components while improving and fortifying their efficiency, connectivity, and overall performance in serving a large network.

With WAN networks, traffic flows through a single low-bandwidth physical link – an often costly process with a generally low return on investment in terms of network performance and reliability. Conversely, SD-WAN networks circumvent such issues by aggregating multiple types of links – including broadband, LTE, and MPLS – and creating a virtual overlay network that optimizes the routing of traffic based on application, quality of service, and security policies. This approach makes it easier for organizations to manage and control their network traffic while ensuring optimal performance and security.

The Importance of SD-WAN Security

In the early days of SD-WAN, security features were limited, and the technology was primarily used to reduce the costs of WAN connectivity by utilizing multiple internet connections. However, as the adoption of SD-WAN increased, so did the need for better security, and vendors began to add advanced security features such as encryption, firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), and unified threat management (UTM).

Since then, SD-WAN has rapidly advanced in terms of its usability, practicality, and stability. This growth stems from rising cross-industry demand for reliable workplace connectivity, network security, and high-level computing – as well as the ongoing threat of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks. This adoption also stems from the emergence of the cloud and, subsequently, the need for organizations to securely connect their cloud resources to their on-premises infrastructure. SD-WAN has enabled secure connectivity to multiple cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

In recent years, SD-WAN has made a noticeable impact on industries like healthcare, finance, and retail – due, in part, to its ability to provide secure and reliable network connectivity. The technology has also been utilized for remote work and hybrid work models, enabling secure access to corporate resources from any location. These benefits of SD-WAN have been particularly vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw countless work environments abruptly shifting to a remote infrastructure and, in the process, making themselves potentially vulnerable to opportunistic cyber threats like phishing attacks and malware.

Now, even as the pandemic wanes, SD-WAN has remained an important investment for organizations because it offers numerous lasting benefits, including:

  1. Cost Savings: SD-WAN reduces the cost of traditional WAN networks by meshing multiple types of links and streamlining traffic routing; this consolidates such expenditures and reduces the chances of spending too much on poor performance.
  2. Improved Performance: SD-WAN improves network performance by optimizing traffic routing and providing better visibility and control over network traffic, which gives network administrators a more efficient and informed view of daily activity.
  3. Agility: SD-WAN enables organizations to quickly adapt to changing network requirements and scale their network as needed. This malleability is crucial as macroeconomic and technological trends constantly reshape the workplace and challenge its existing digital infrastructure.
  4. Cloud Readiness: SD-WAN is essential for organizations that rely on cloud resources, as it provides better connectivity, security, and performance for cloud-based applications. Such features have become paramount as more organizations grow to emphasize both cybersecurity and internal fluidity.

Security, in particular, is a promising component of SD-WAN technology – and also a crucial consideration during its initial implementation. As SD-WAN makes it easier to connect remote sites and cloud resources, it also potentially increases the attack surface for cybercriminals. Therefore, organizations need to ensure that their SD-WAN deployment is secure from end to end, and they can accomplish this task by aligning and leveraging several critical variables:

  1. Encrypted Traffic: SD-WAN encrypts all traffic to ensure that sensitive data is not intercepted or compromised by cybercriminals, instilling peace of mind for internal correspondence and file transfer.
  2. Next-Generation Firewalls: SD-WAN incorporates next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) that provide advanced threat protection, intrusion prevention, and content filtering. NGFWs augment SD-WAN’s sense of control and awareness, making threat mitigation easier for network administrators to manage.
  3. Zero-Trust Network Access: SD-WAN enforces a zero-trust security model, ensuring that only authorized users and devices can access the network.
  4. Cloud-Based Security: Many SD-WAN providers offer cloud-based security services that provide real-time threat intelligence and protection against advanced threats.

Organizations must also remain vigilant in addressing other SD-WAN-specific challenges, ensuring stronger and safer network architecture. Like SD-WAN’s security implications, many of these potential hurdles stem from the technology’s underlying strengths.

For instance, SD-WAN’s inherent complexity, while inevitable due to its various benefits, can make the technology difficult to approach and comprehend at first. This fact is especially true of organizations with limited IT resources – or of entities in the midst of a full digital overhaul, where SD-WAN may be one of several concurrent changes in motion. What’s more, SD-WAN must integrate within existing networking infrastructure, which can also be challenging for organizations that have heterogeneous digital environments.

Additionally, organizations should exercise self-awareness and foresight when considering SD-WAN integration. Though the technology is growing to accommodate a wider spectrum of networks, it may not always be the best solution for organizations with high-bandwidth applications that require dedicated links. In this sense, leaders should consider SD-WAN alongside other options that may better fit the company, cross-analyzing these possible paths to confirm SD-WAN’s objective compatibility.

Therefore, before initiating transformations involving SD-WAN, organization leadership must dedicate ample time to auditing existing infrastructure, clarifying high-level goals, and taking stock of how their network will change to accommodate SD-WAN and ultimately flourish.

Advantages Of SD-WAN Security

SD-WAN security is becoming noted for its multitude of benefits for networks. These SD-WAN advantages include:

1.    Centralized Management

SD-WAN security provides centralized management, which helps IT teams control and monitor network activity. With a centralized management console, administrators can configure and enforce security policies, manage network traffic, and monitor network performance from a single location. This approach simplifies network management, improves visibility, and enables IT teams to respond more quickly to security threats or network issues.

2.    Application-Aware Routing

Networks with SD-WAN security allow for application-aware routing, which optimizes network performance by directing traffic over the most efficient path. By analyzing application performance metrics such as latency, packet loss, and jitter, SD-WAN security can dynamically route traffic to the optimal path, thereby reducing network congestion and improving application performance.

3.    Improved Security

As noted earlier, SD-WAN can facilitate improved security by encrypting data traffic and protecting against network attacks. By using advanced security protocols like VPNs, firewalls, and intrusion prevention measures, SD-WAN security can secure network traffic, detect and block malicious traffic, and prevent unauthorized access to the network.

4.    Scalability

SD-WAN security is highly scalable, making it ideal for organizations of all sizes. As organizations grow, they can easily expand their network infrastructure by adding more nodes, which administrators can manage from a central location. This scalability helps organizations reduce their operational costs, improve network performance, and enhance security.

5.    Flexible Deployment

In addition to being scalable, SD-WAN security is also very flexible, sporting compatibility within on-premises, cloud-based, and hybrid models. These features allow organizations to choose the deployment model that best suits their needs, reducing operational costs and improving network performance along the way.

6.    Granular Control

SD-WAN security provides granular control over network traffic, allowing administrators to configure policies based on specific applications, user groups, or locations. This granular control enables organizations to prioritize mission-critical applications, optimize network performance, and improve user experience.

7.    Automated Provisioning

Another benefit of SD-WAN security is its ability to automate network provisioning, which can reduce the need for manual configuration and the risk of human error. Automated provisioning helps organizations save time and resources, improves network uptime, and reduces the risk of security breaches – allowing network administrators to dedicate their time and focus to other vital organization facets currently incompatible with automation.

8.    Analysis and Reporting

SD-WAN security offers advanced analytics and reporting features, enabling organizations to monitor network performance, identify security threats, and make data-driven decisions. Analytics and reporting features provide real-time visibility into network activity, which can help organizations improve network efficiency and security posture in a more navigable, digestible manner.

9.    Multi-Tenancy

SD-WAN security’s multi-tenancy capabilities are another crucial strength; they allow service providers to deliver secure network services to multiple customers or tenants. With multi-tenancy, each tenant can have their own virtual network with separate security policies and access controls. This approach helps service providers deliver secure and scalable network services to their customers, while also reducing operational costs.

10.  Cost-Effectiveness

Finally, SD-WAN security is cost-effective compared to traditional networking solutions. By using commodity hardware, cloud-based management, and automated network provisioning, SD-WAN security reduces the need for expensive hardware – as well as the time and cost of network deployment, which simplifies network management. This cost-effectiveness makes SD-WAN security an attractive option for small and medium-sized businesses looking to improve network security and performance while reducing costs.

Features and Architecture of SD-WAN

The architecture of SD-WAN comprises two main components: SD-WAN edge devices and the SD-WAN controller. Organizations deploy SD-WAN edge devices at their network’s edge, where they connect to WAN and LAN networks. These devices can be physical appliances, virtual appliances, or cloud-based instances.

Meanwhile, the SD-WAN controller is responsible for managing and orchestrating the network traffic. It provides a centralized management console that enables network administrators to configure security policies, manage network traffic, and monitor network performance. The controller also provides advanced analytics and reporting capabilities that help organizations make more informed, data-driven decisions.

As for SD-WAN’s fundamental set-up features, the technology involves several steps that include network design, deployment, and configuration. These steps include:

  1. Network Assessment: The first step in SD-WAN setup is to perform a network assessment to determine the current network infrastructure, identify performance bottlenecks, and assess security risks. This process allows for a more informed, seamless transition from the existing network structure and protocol.
  2. Design and Planning: Following the network assessment, the next step is to design and plan SD-WAN deployment. This stage includes selecting the SD-WAN edge devices, determining the network topology, and designing security policies. Such information will further inform the deployment process, giving all subsequent steps a foundational blueprint for which to strive.
  3. Deployment: Once the design and planning are complete, the organization should deploy SD-WAN edge devices at the network edge; this occurs through the use of physical appliances, virtual appliances, or cloud-based instances – and this selection will depend on the organization’s broad goals, unique characteristics, and constraints in transitioning to SD-WAN functionality.
  4. Configuration: After the deployment, organizations configure their SD-WAN edge devices by using the SD-WAN controller. This process includes configuring security policies, configuring network traffic, and configuring advanced analytics and reporting capabilities, ensuring that these features and variables are sound.
  5. Testing and Optimization: Following configuration, network testing ensures that the network is functional; this entails measuring network performance, testing security policies, and weighing advanced analytics and reporting capabilities. The network then undergoes optimization based on these test results to improve network performance, security, and reliability.

Conclusion of SD-WAN

For organizations looking to improve the performance, security, and fluidity of their internal networks, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) presents a promising opportunity to enhance efficiency and safety. The technology poses many advantages and features conducive to a stronger network – all for comparatively cost-effective means. Organization leaders can maximize their SD-WAN output by handling the integration process with both diligence and forward-thinking ideation, keeping their teams apprised of all related changes and equipping them to learn and navigate this beneficial technology.

If your organization is ready to take the next step in bettering its digital performance and architecture, consider making the shift to an SD-WAN security system. Reach out to our team for questions or more information!