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A soft solution to harden hybrid networks

A new twist on software-defined networking makes the hybrid wide-area network feasible for organizations worried about data security.

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Data security is a persistent concern for organizations looking at new technologies. One relatively novel connection system is the hybrid wide-area network — but some say security worries keep businesses from using this versatile, cost-effective system. Now, a new technology known as software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) could be the key to unlocking the benefits of hybrid and persuading the naysayers.

Hybrid WANs: flexible, but are they secure?

Hybrid WANs use two or more kinds of network technologies to connect locations. A hybrid system could involve multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) plus T3s or Internet-based virtual private networks (VPNs). It’s the WAN made adaptable. You can mix and match technologies to best suit your situation. For example, you could use MPLS for mission-critical data and Internet-based VPNs to access cloud services.

But are hybrid WANs secure? That’s an important question for a number of enterprises. Many say no. “Security is the greatest barrier to the hybrid WAN,” writes web security firm Blue Coat in a recent whitepaper. The company says some are loath to give up their centralized MPLS-only WANs. “The main reason for backhauling architecture is to put all that traffic through the layers of security resident at the data centre.”

Soft on hybrids

The whitepaper goes on to say security-as-a-service is a way to protect information travelling across hybrids. But it’s not the only answer. Other IT industry watchers point to SD-WAN as a solution. It allows companies to manage hybrid networks more efficiently, sending data down the best path according to parameters for speed, security and other requirements.

The security piece is crucial. As Jessica Scarpati writes in a Tech Target article, experts believe the encryption and network-monitoring capabilities built into SD-WAN platforms “finally make hybrid networks secure enough for widespread use.”

What’s more, SD-WAN is “increasingly viable” for many organizations, according to IT research firm IDC. In a survey, it found that “consistent security” was the No. 1 reason that businesses rolled out the technology. Other driving factors included optimization of WAN bandwidth and the ability to deploy network connections more quickly.

Andrew Lerner, a research vice-president at IT market-watcher Gartner, says in a blog post that SD-WAN awareness and uptake “are skyrocketing … We are seeing organizations with large numbers of distributed locations in North America and Europe (especially retail and financials) adopting and evaluating SD-WAN.”

And it’s not just leading-edge organizations. As Lerner says, “mainstream and even technology laggards” ranging from small to huge are stepping into the technology.

Lerner points out that in a poll of attendees at a Gartner conference, 63 per cent said their WANs are the most expensive portion of their networks. Had that poll asked if they’d like to spend less on their WAN, chances are most would have said yes.

Hybrid WAN architecture is one way for companies to reduce networking expenses. Now that SD-WAN is on the scene, organizations can rest assured that their hybrid systems will also be secure.

Illustration courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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