This is a summary of an article written for Forbes by Michael Xie, Founder, President, & CTO at Fortinet. The entire article can be accessed here.
Software-defined products and solutions have flooded the market, making it difficult for C-suite leaders to differentiate between the array of acronym-heavy technologies vying for their budget dollars. One of the most potentially disruptive solutions is SD-branch, a technology set that stands out when it comes to the promise of digital connectivity and branch functionality. The challenge SD-branch aims to address is to ensure that every user within an organization has full access to their entire range of business-critical applications, and to do so without compromising user experience. Ensuring this in a world of multi-cloud services and often unreliable public network bandwidth is intense, complicated, and critical to global business success.
To address these challenges, a slew of vendors have entered the SD-branch market promising flexible, dynamic, and adaptable solutions. However, decision makers must take care not to be swayed by marketing claims alone. Without proper implementation, or true integration between components, organizations may find that they are not investing in software-defined branches, but instead increasing their software-defined risk.
Today’s Digital Branch Environment
Security is at the top of the list of vendor promises that do not map to reality. Real-time global collaboration and the delivery of business results are increasingly important in our digitally driven world. But what good is connecting offices and workers across locations if security is not top of mind? Secure connectivity is critical, especially at the branch level, where branch office networks are now interconnected to the rest of the distributed network. And because cybercriminals are always willing to find and compromise the weakest chain in the link, the branch must provide the same level of security being delivered at the central network.
The era of the traditionally siloed and physically disconnected branch offices is a thing of the past. Today, branches are not just connected in name and spirit. Like those of an actual tree, these branches are all interconnected across a broader framework. In other words, while branch offices may be remote, they must still function as a fundamental extension of the core network. This means that the entire network is only as secure as the branch office with the most vulnerabilities.
Compounding the usual vulnerabilities of any branch LAN is the expansion of the local branch network via IoT and mobile access – technologies such as these transform a branch from just one vulnerability point into a cluster of hundreds, if not thousands, of potential points of compromise. Multiply this to encompass an entire network of branch offices and the potential for security issues increases exponentially. This is because the more efficiently that branches lack adequate security are connected together, the more effectively they will lead threat actors directly to the network’s most mission-critical data.
The Importance of Security in Branch Environments
When branch offices lack proper security controls, they can become prime conduits for routing breaches and cybercrime right to the core of your network. And as a result, they can also become ineffective channels for getting work done. A traditional SD-WAN solution only resolves connection problems. It does nothing to ensure the security or integrity of the connections that the organization relies on, or the LAN behind the SD-WAN device. The challenge is that overlaying security as an afterthought to secure a constantly changing infrastructure, which is what most SD-WAN vendors require organizations to do, is extremely expensive and rarely effective. And worse, a branch’s internal LAN is exceptionally vulnerable because it does not fall under the umbrella of protection from the organization’s centralized security services. And worse, they are not only on their own when it comes to security, they also only have a fraction of the budget necessary to provide the same level of protection that is provided at the core network.
What these remote offices need is an SD-branch solution that also provides fully integrated next-generation firewall capabilities. This approach enables the securing of both wired and wireless connections, provides full branch network security access controls, and allows administrators – both local and remote – to see and monitor all devices integrated into the branch LAN. And better, it ensures that constant change – from dynamic connectivity to the addition of new IoT devices – is automatically protected because security and the network now function as a single, integrated system.
Unfortunately, most organizations don’t come to this realization that this is something that they need until after they have already invested in a solution that lacks the requisite comprehensive security. And even after adding security components from different vendors, they still have to deal with a cumbersome collection of solutions not designed to interoperate as a single security system. This not only can overwhelm limited IT staff by creating unsafe levels of complexity, but critical security gaps will still be created as security solutions that are not integrated into the underlying network struggle to keep up with dynamic connectivity changes required to maintain consistent access to critical applications and other resources.
This is why a security-first approach to SD-branch is critical. Via this method, CISOs can address the primary issues of security, productivity, and agility in a coordinated way that reduces cost and complexity without putting the network at risk. Balancing ease of access against robust security is a challenge, however, especially with IT resources already stretched thin due to a heavy focus on business continuity. Solutions that provide better adaptability, flexibility, and reach without compromising security through seamless integration between all elements of the network become crucial in these circumstances.
Functioning as a Single System With Secure SD-Branch
Simplicity of design, such as only using solutions that share open APIs and common standards, is just the first step in developing a secure SD-Branch. While it is important that network processes, remote connectivity, and security function as a single system, it is even more critical that security drives this functionality. This requires a single, integrated platform that blends security, network functionality, and SD-WAN into a single solution to ensure an open, adaptive, and flexible system that can easily adapt to changing business requirements at the branch without ever sacrificing protections. At the end of the day, once an organization truly understands what is at stake, the number of solutions that can meet this raised bar, such as Fortinet’s SD-Branch solution, is dramatically reduced.
Once a fully integrated and adaptive solution is in place – one that integrates networking, connectivity, and security into a single, fully integrated system – organizations can invest in greater reach and ability, ensuring workers can be productive and remain competitive while still creating secure paths forward. The reality is, business systems will only become more interconnected in the future, and organizations need to put security top of mind now, during the planning and development stages, to ensure that the adoption of new applications and services can resolve the business issues of tomorrow without putting the entire business at risk.
Consolidate your branch services while delivering security, agility, and performance with Fortinet SD-Branch.