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Balancing Security and Agility with SD-WAN

Charles Araujo | July 18, 2019

Charles Araujo is a Principal Analyst with Intellyx, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise, and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change.

Balance.

In an enterprise tech world dominated by hype-laden headlines and breathless sales pitches about the latest must-have technology, balance, it would seem, may be the most underrated and under-appreciated enterprise IT capability.

The ability to strike and maintain a balance between competing, but unavoidable forces, however, is rapidly becoming an essential capability for organizations that recognize that there is no shortcut on the pathway to success in the digital era.

A case-in-point is the seemingly intractable contention between the need for organizational agility and the need for enterprise security, as organizations transform themselves into modern, digital-first enterprises.

Every step that makes the organization more agile seems to undermine or threaten its security posture. And every step that makes the organization more secure threatens to make it less adept at change and less able to pivot when the next market shift occurs.

Within most enterprise IT organizations, it sets up a never-ending battle between teams responsible for these respective organizational objectives. But rather than contention, what they must find is balance.

The question is, how.

Agility and The Dual-Barreled Threat of Complexity and Security

Theoretically, achieving a balance between agility and security shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. It shouldn’t be a choice between one or the other.

The reality, however, is that two colliding forces makes striking a balance much harder than it sounds.

The first is the high degree of agility that organizations now require.

Saying that your organization needs to be agile doesn't sound all that extreme. Just attack meaningless bureaucracy and embrace a culture of openness, and you should be all set.

The challenge, however, is that what enterprises need today is an extreme amount of organizational agility: the ability to radically alter fundamental business models, operating models, and organizational structures to adapt to rapidly shifting market demands and constantly-emerging threats and opportunities.

It is the combination of continuously changing customer expectations, and the uncertainty that these continual course corrections create, that leads to this need for extreme agility.

The situation is then compounded by the second force: escalating complexity.

As organizations have attempted to respond to continually shifting market demands, they have deployed a steady stream of new technologies across the enterprise spectrum. The result is an ever-more-complex technology stack.

This growing complexity has an inverse negative impact on an organization’s security posture—every degree of increased complexity increases its exposure.

Every corresponding response to secure the environment, however, decreases the organization’s ability to react to future changes in market conditions—and the cycle continues.

As Jason Bloomberg pointed out in his recent piece When Disruptions Converge: AI, SD-WAN, and the Edge, one of the most critical points at which this all comes to a head is within the network.

If organizations are going to find the elusive balance between agility and security, therefore, the network is one of the best places to start.

SD-WAN: The Starting Point on a Journey to Balance

When you hear the words agility and security, the network—and specifically, the wide-area network (WAN)—is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

As Bloomberg points out in his article, however, it is precisely the proliferation of technology assets and capabilities at the edge that creates both opportunity and risk. It represents one of the most exceptional opportunities to develop agility-driven competitive advantage, but also one of the most significant security risks as bad actors look for the least-protected weak links in the network.

Just as complexity, however, is the compelling force that makes the balance between agility and security challenging to find, it is in resolving that complexity that organizations can find a path forward.

Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) create an abstraction layer that both consolidates and simplifies the complexity and proliferation of exposed capabilities at an organization’s edge.

By bringing all potential exposure points into one place, and by taking a software-defined approach to instantiating and managing the myriad technical and business services that an organization may require at its newly complex edge, this technology enables organizations to move closer to the needed balance point.

Moreover, the ability to manage everything through a so-called single pane of glass makes it easier for enterprise IT operations teams to reduce overhead and redeploy resources away from routine management activities and towards continually tuning the infrastructure to maintain both agility and security.

Still, not all SD-WAN solutions are equal when it comes to helping organizations strike this much-needed balance. While all SD-WAN solutions are, by definition, software-defined and, therefore, abstracted, many of them either do not address the security issues at all or do so only peripherally.

A new generation of SD-WAN solutions, such as Open Systems Secure SD-WAN, however, take a more holistic approach that embeds rich security functions into the fabric of the SD-WAN abstraction. By doing so, these solutions help organizations find—and maintain—the balance between agility and security that they so desperately need.

The Intellyx Take: Balance as a Competitive Advantage

The most defining characteristic of the digital era may be its uncompromising nature.

To say that enterprise leaders need to strike a balance between agility and security is almost a misnomer.

The reality is that you must achieve both.

There is no compromise. You cannot afford to be sluggish in your response to changing customer expectations and market shifts, nor can you afford to sacrifice security—in any way—as you seek to create that agility.

The balance you need, therefore, is the ability to achieve both simultaneously without bankrupting your organization in the process.

While it may neither be your first thought, nor the only place in which you must strike this balance, using security-embedded SD-WAN technology may, in fact, be the best place to begin.

Its unique combination of ease of deployment and high impact makes it one of the best places for organizations to begin their march toward a balance between security and agility—a balance that will increasingly become a competitive differentiator in itself.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Open Systems is an Intellyx customer. Intellyx retains final editorial control of this article.