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Scrap the patchwork of solutions, policies and vendors

Faced with changing workplace demands, many organisations have suddenly found themselves with a hodgepodge of solutions, policies and vendors with which to contend.
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Remote workers are multiplying around the world and the provision of anywhere, anytime access to digital capabilities has become mandatory for many companies.

In today’s pandemic-dominated business environment, access requirements are inverted. There are more users, devices, applications, services and data located outside an enterprise than within it.

As a result, the definition of the corporate network has had to be revised, while the challenges associated with maintaining multi-branch and multi-cloud network security will have to be overcome.

Unfortunately, faced with changing workplace demands, and in their haste to update, revise or replace aging, perimeter-based approaches to network security, many organisations have suddenly found themselves with a patchwork of solutions, policies and vendors with which to contend.

Given the complexities associated with the resultant multidimensional networks, it is no coincidence that many corporate executives − principally those with infrastructure security and risk management responsibilities − now find themselves in an unenviable position.

Almost without warning, their heterogeneous network security models have become ill-suited to the dynamic needs of a modern digital business and its distributed digital workforce.

That said, the need to assertively advance the digital transformation cause and accelerate cloud adoption has never been greater. It has become vital for organisations to invest in a considered, calculated and prudent migration plan to enable a smooth and secure transition from legacy perimeter and hardware-based offerings to the cloud.

The need to assertively advance the digital transformation cause and accelerate cloud adoption has never been greater.

As the Gartner research group asserts: “The legacy perimeter must transform into a set of cloud-based, converged capabilities created when and where an enterprise needs them − that is, a dynamically created, policy-based secure access service edge.”

This puts the spotlight on the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) model, which in addition to redefining the enterprise network, radically changes the network’s security landscape.

In essence, SASE consists of two key categories of services − network edge services and security edge services – which, when correctly implemented, result in a simplified security and network policy for network managers and an equally simplified and consistently secure connection of remote users to their applications, data and services.

Gartner describes such an implementation as a “pragmatic and compelling solution that can be partially or fully implemented today”.

There is a sense of urgency associated with SASE. It is highlighted by author Ryan Morris-Reade, who underlines findings by UK-based Sapio Research, which reveal that 64% of businesses polled in the US, UK, France and Germany are adopting − or plan to adopt − SASE by 2022 driven by COVID-19-linked restrictions on conventional business practices and procedures.

Despite this expected sharp uptake of SASE, the majority (69%) of IT and security professionals surveyed said they remain confused about its true meaning. Morris-Reade adds that only 31% of respondents were able to correctly identify the definition of SASE as “the convergence of networking and security services into a single cloud-native service model”.

In this light, there seems little doubt that a hasty, unresearched or ill-planned SASE implementation will have critically negative security implications. As Gartner stresses, “security must become software-defined and cloud-delivered, forcing changes in security architecture and vendor selection”.

The emphasis on vendor selection is important and gaining relevance in the wake of recent announcements linked to vendor consolidation and acquisitions in the SASE arena. SASE is a strategic framework which should be evaluated by all organisations alongside a comprehensive assessment of available vendor/reseller alternatives.

Significantly, Gartner predicts that for some time to come, an organisation’s SASE capabilities may differ considerably depending on vendor selection. It advises businesses to “prioritise their needs for converged capabilities versus the need for continued best-of-breed capabilities” until there is more definition in the vendor/reseller market.

“Some vendors are positioning themselves as offering SASE to fill gaps with partnerships, but the daisy-chaining of services and/or network function virtualisation to deliver this is not a sustainable long-term option. Partnerships are tenuous as markets merge and former partners begin competing directly,” notes Gartner.

When it comes to a SASE solution, what should drive an organisation’s decision-making processes regarding vendor/reseller selection?

The best route is to first evaluate existing contractual relationships and benchmark them against competing options. Gain insights into what SASE solutions could be implemented immediately – based on current partnerships – and what elements could be more advantageously outsourced to other, perhaps more specialised resellers.

This must be done with the clear understanding that effective SASE solutions require features that are well integrated, not simply “cobbled together” from various vendor or reseller sources.

At the same time, recognise and appreciate the existing in-house IT team’s skills and their ability to be expediently applied should either a fully-managed SASE or a co-managed option be preferred.

Also foster the advancement of a core of SASE specialists within the organisation with the capacity to evaluate future security-related issues as they arise and deploy applicable solutions within the SASE ecology.

These solutions will likely involve core defensive options such as a secure web gateway, zero trust network access, a software-defined perimeter, firewall as a service and others.

Oversight is also essential. Gartner suggests that SASE offerings should be chosen to allow control of where inspections take place, how traffic is routed, what is logged and where logs are stored to meet privacy and compliance requirements.

Looking ahead, many industry watchers see an increasing role for artificial intelligence (AI) in assessing risk and making real-time changes to protect networks from evolving threats.

AIOps (as AI is designated when it is applied to problems relating to IT operations) incorporates machine learning, behavioural analytics and predictive analytics to observe and evaluate performance across the network, security and cloud applications.

SASE unlocks the power of AIOps and points the way to the autonomous networks of the future. They will be characterised by secure, self-managing and self-healing architectures capable of making “on-the-fly” additions, moves and changes based on perceived risk.

Let’s conclude with a word or two of caution for organisations with the view that entrenched and maybe unadventurous vendor relationships, unchallenged product updates and conventional timing of hardware refresh cycles hold relevance within the scope of a premium-class SASE migration strategy.

They will surely limit these organisations’ ability to take speedy advantage of an increasingly sought-after, cloud-native network service model in an era of rapid change.

Paul Stuttard

Director, Duxbury Networking.

Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.

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