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Dealing with the risks and issues of legacy network architectures

As organizations journey towards digital transformation, they’re increasingly likely to have migrated workloads to the cloud.  This raises the challenge of dealing with the issues and risks associated with legacy network architectures that were built for a pre-cloud era. Hubert da Costa explores the subject and suggests a solution.

In today’s modern business world more organizations are adopting a digital-first strategy to help keep them on top in terms of innovation, efficiency, and growth. However, legacy network technologies simply cannot keep up with the performance and agility that is required for a digital-first strategy. Organizations that neglect to become more digitally dynamic risk being left behind by their competitors and customers. But, despite the challenges, organizations must participate in their own digital transformation, and a solution is being found in software-defined wide area networking technology, or SD-WAN.

The connectivity conundrum

The catalyst for today’s IT connectivity challenge has been the adoption of mobility, Big Data, social media, cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which are extending traditional enterprise perimeters to the network edge and beyond. In this scenario the traditional approach of using virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect remote sites and new applications has become much less effective and more costly. As new applications are added to distributed enterprise locations, the practice of simply adding more VPNs to secure them has become increasingly complex and cost-prohibitive. As a result, legacy VPN technology has also become more vulnerable to new security threats and therefore less appealing in highly distributed environments.

Because each location might have multiple devices, each with a different configuration, as well as a range of possible security requirements, relying on traditional enterprise connectivity presents several fundamental challenges in today’s digital business world. Legacy networks are often too complex and awkward to adapt to changing circumstances in a timely manner.  Adapting to changing network needs, for example adding new applications, or responding to new security threats, which must be done quickly to ensure business continuity, would require labour-intensive efforts to support dynamic network conditions on a traditional connectivity architecture.

These challenges are compounded by the short fallings of traditional security approaches for the needs of today’s highly distributed enterprises. Multiple touch points for manual security configurations leave networks prone to misconfigurations or inconsistent configurations, which consequently expose them to greater security threats. And then there is the rising cost factor. The capital expenditure for various point-product hardware, public IP addresses, and software continues to rise, as do the costs of qualified IT staff to support remote locations.

It is clear that a new, modern, approach is needed to better support the needs of distributed enterprises. Many are turning to software-defined networking to gain better control over the performance, cost, and management of their networks to support their digital transformation strategies.

The software-defined solution

SD-WAN is a software-based technology for connecting remote locations to distributed enterprise networks. SD-WANs operate as a network overlay, enabling remote sites to consolidate multiple network functions and applications over low-cost broadband connections.

Because they are software-based SD-WANs condense the number of network devices and connections needed at each site, significantly lowering network complexity and costs—especially at the network edge. Enterprises can also remotely customise and reconfigure SD-WANs providing them with the agility and support needed to make system updates and quickly respond to changing circumstances.

In particular, secure SD-WAN solutions greatly simplify enterprise networks and dramatically reduce both the capital and operating expenses associated with managing enterprise WANs. SD-WANs also easily extend the multi-layer security defences used in data centres to remote locations.

An important feature of SD-WAN is its ability to segment various types of applications into their own dedicated logical networks, preventing them from interacting with other application traffic on the network. For instance, mission-critical applications (such as payment processing) can coexist with public applications (such as Guest Wi-Fi) on a single network.

All network intelligence is handled in software because the network is virtualised. By doing this enterprises can simultaneously set up remote locations and keep them in sync using centralised cloud-based policy administration that’s inherent in SD-WAN connectivity models. This modern cloud-based approach further reduces cost and complexity while increasing overall network flexibility.

A simpler path to digital transformation

Developing a data connectivity and security program for remote locations should be the first step for any enterprise looking to get started with SD-WAN. Engaging stakeholders to ensure a holistic approach is critical to this process, and a pilot installation can quickly demonstrate the practical benefits of a secure SD-WAN solution. A wider, incremental roll-out on a site-by-site basis can then help avoid disrupting existing architecture and minimise business risk.

Legacy connectivity architectures are an inevitable consequence of technology innovation and changing market conditions. The challenge for any business on a digital transformation journey is that the changes being made to infrastructure, services, and processes are so fundamental that relying on legacy networks will ultimately stifle their efforts. Only a modern approach to connectivity—such as a cloud-based SD-WAN solution—provides a clear path to continued business success from the data centre to the network edge and beyond.

The author

Hubert da Costa is SVP and GM EMEA, Cybera.



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