By Jonathan Wright, director of products and operations at Global Cloud Xchange (GCX).
The demand for SD-WAN services has experienced an unprecedented surge, as businesses eagerly seek to enhance their network visibility and connectivity, all while carefully managing costs. This trend has proven particularly rewarding for Managed Service Providers (MSPs).
These MSPs have skilfully navigated the intricate landscape of SD-WAN, overseeing the procurement and management of the physical network infrastructure while optimising the software-level overlay. Nonetheless, the realm of SD-WAN is far from without its difficulties, and MSPs have prospered in bridging a critical gap in both the skillset and capacity of many in-house teams.
However, what appears to have eluded the consideration of many partners is the deep-rooted truth that this approach is inherently unsustainable.
A paradigm shift in networking strategy
The oversight stems from the failure to acknowledge that SD-WAN was built to cater to office-based working practices, an area that has yet to fully recover since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But unfortunately, it falls short of delivering the flexibility and visibility required in the hybrid environments for the growing community of remote workers, while introducing new security concerns as data is unsecured as it moves between on-premise to cloud locations. For both MSPs and the companies they serve, this reality casts a shadow over the longevity of their current SD-WAN approach and therefore a risk in future revenues. Therefore, a paradigm shift in their networking strategy is the pressing need of the hour.
MSPs must pivot to a new approach. One that allows them to seamlessly deliver the very benefits that initially enticed their clients to embrace SD-WAN within this new hybrid working environment. This strategic shift is pivotal to charting a course toward a future where connectivity, visibility, and security align harmoniously with the evolving needs of modern businesses.
Understanding the predicament
SD-WAN’s original design was tailored for managing networks within a fixed physical location, primarily focusing on traffic routing to WAN or LAN ports. The concept of accommodating a network of dispersed users, particularly remote workers, was not at the forefront of its inception. In the past, a limited number of remote workers could endure a suboptimal digital experience by connecting to a VPN linked to a handful of gateways scattered across the globe.
However, the landscape of work has undergone a profound transformation. Today, the traditional boundaries of the office have dissolved, and employees expect a seamless digital experience whether they are situated in an office setting, working from the comfort of their homes, or even operating remotely from a deck chair on the beach. Many IT leaders are racing against the clock to catch up, striving to develop and implement corporate policies that align with this evolving work environment.
The present reality starkly contrasts the environment for which SD-WAN was initially conceived, and the disparity is quite evident. Network visibility and control face substantial challenges as remote employees access networks through diverse internet service providers and a multitude of devices. Consequently, IT teams grapple with the task of tracking what is being accessed, who is accessing it, and the way it is accessed. This predicament not only escalates the risk of shadow IT, but also leaves data transmitted from remote devices vulnerable and unprotected until it ultimately reaches its intended destination. It is therefore crucial to re-evaluate and adapt network strategies to align with the demands of the contemporary work landscape, where connectivity, visibility, and data security reign supreme.
An evolution of network infrastructure
MSPs must guide their clients towards an evolution of their network infrastructure. This should involve the strategic incorporation of a SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) framework, which redefines the role of SD-WAN as a pure access technology, with the SASE overlay framework supporting most of the remaining functionalities.
From the client’s perspective, this would not only elevate the security and compliance of data packets by channelling all network traffic through a centralised framework, regardless of its original source or intended destination, but also it provides a unified, real-time view of network traffic and application performance.
For MSPs, this transition brings forth a multitude of advantages. Providers of managed network services naturally reap the benefits of heightened flexibility and enhanced visibility, leading to improved performance and user-friendliness. Additionally, it empowers them to restructure their service offerings, shifting from a per-site pricing model to a more dynamic per-user pricing structure. This shift opens doors to the creation of innovative services centred around observability and security, generating additional revenue streams, and strengthening the MSP’s position as a valued partner in the ever-evolving landscape of network solutions.
Aligning with the demands of the modern workforce
The monumental shift in working practices, particularly the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid working models, has undeniably triggered a significant transformation in network infrastructure demands. In this evolution, SD-WAN appears to be the casualty, struggling to keep pace with the shifting landscape. Still, Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have the power to mitigate this and emerge as pioneers of change.
By transitioning towards a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) framework, MSPs can not only enhance their ability to deliver superior and more secure network services, but also seize the opportunity to become invaluable partners for their clients. This strategic shift not only addresses the limitations of SD-WAN, it paves the way for the creation of innovative services that cater to the evolving needs of modern businesses.
The path of remote and hybrid working forces a revaluation of network infrastructure, and MSPs have a pivotal role to play in this transformation. Embracing the SASE framework empowers MSPs to provide enhanced services, foster client partnerships, and explore new avenues of revenue generation. It is a proactive step towards a future where network solutions align seamlessly with the dynamic demands of the modern workforce.