Building Your Secure Cloud-Ready Branch

Many organizations are developing a cloud-ready branch strategy that relies on SD-WAN to enable direct Internet access for fast cloud access and improved cloud application performance.

Nirav Shah, Products & Solutions Lead, FortiGate, Fortinet

November 5, 2019

5 Min Read

Most branch offices today still rely on a connection back to the core network for their access to applications and data. This tether-like connection ensures that end users have secure access to critical data center and central security resources. However, as more applications, data and workflows move to the cloud, relying on backhauling traffic through that central connection is preventing organizations from taking full advantage of its power and flexibility.

The biggest impact is on application performance. Hauling cloud application traffic through the central network hub on its way to a branch user can seriously impact application performance and the end user experience -- putting your branch users at a serious disadvantage. Not to mention the impact of an exponentially growing volume of traffic moving through your core network.

To address this challenge, many organizations are developing a cloud-ready branch strategy that relies on SD-WAN to enable direct Internet access for fast cloud access and improved cloud application performance. Direct access means faster, more flexible application performance, increased productivity and a better user experience.

Securing the cloud-enabled branch
The most important impact this strategy has is on security. Direct cloud access that bypasses the core network means that transactions and data need their own security. And that means a full security stack -- NGFW, IPS, Web Filtering, sandboxing, etc. -- and not just the sort of basic firewall functionality that most SD-WAN solutions provide. Unfortunately, this is a consideration that many organizations have overlooked, which has meant an expensive and time-consuming process of trying to replicate the security at the core as some sort of overlay solution deployed at the cloud. The results are generally as complicated and prone to problems as you might expect.

Direct access to the Internet, cloud resources and SaaS applications also means that 80% or more of your traffic will be encrypted. This requires a security solution that can decrypt and inspect traffic without slowing down critical application functionality. Unfortunately, this is the Achilles heel of most security solutions -- so bad, in fact, that many NGFW vendors don't even publish their performance numbers for decrypting and then inspecting traffic. It is essential, therefore, that you look for a solution that is designed for the performance requirements of today's branch office.

Optimizing cloud applications
Of course, security is only part of the equation. You also need to optimize the connection between your business users and your cloud applications. This requires an application-centric routing system in place that can support things like link classification. When your user wants to use Office365, for example, your SD-WAN solution needs to be able to automatically recognize and classify the first packet with the proper application information to ensure that all subsequent traffic is dynamically steered to the right link. This is especially crucial for multicloud environments where applications may be hosted across a variety of IaaS and SaaS providers. This not only optimizes link and application performance -- often multiple times faster than non-optimized connections -- including redirecting traffic to a new link should performance degrade on the first, but also better enables end-to-end security from the end user to the business application.

Most SD-WAN solutions only provide optimization for the last mile, between the branch and the internet. Optimization, however, needs to span the entire connection by also interoperating with the routing and security solutions you use in the cloud to ensure consistent functionality. This requires using an SD-WAN solution that has been designed and optimized to function with cloud-native security and routing solutions deployed across all major cloud providers.

And for true optimization, you also need link monitoring and management across the "middle mile" of your public Internet connection. Internet links can be unreliable, but by spinning up additional connections and VMs within the internet itself -- through the proper deployment of solutions and deep integration with Internet providers -- this middle mile connection over the public Internet can be made to function like a self-optimizing, self-healing network to ensure the best possible business application experience.

Ensuring compliance
Because you have disconnected your branch cloud connectivity from your central network, another area that will need attention is the monitoring of end user cloud activities to ensure compliance. You need to ensure that any cloud resource use is authorized, that data is being accessed within policy, and that unauthorized users and applications stay out of your cloud environment. Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) solutions are designed to do just that, and are another essential component of any SD-WAN and cloud-ready branch strategy.

CASB positions an essential security policy enforcement point in the cloud, between end users and cloud providers, where it can monitor and manage all cloud transactions. Once in place, it can then enforce security policies, ensure regulatory compliance, enable shadow IT discovery and monitor user behavior for all cloud transactions.

Unified management
The final area of concern is management. Today's networks have far too many moving parts to be adequately managed and orchestrated using the variety of management consoles each environment requires. Instead, organizations require an integrated, single pane of glass management and analytics solution for both networking and security that can span multiple branch offices, central networks, multicloud environments and SaaS applications, and mobile users. This ensures that you have deep visibility across you entire distributed network, including your cloud-ready branch.

The move to security-driven networking
Integration is key for any cloud on-ramping strategy. It starts by integrating all security solutions, regardless of where they are located, into a single, unified fabric. This fabric needs to be able to extend across the entire distributed network to ensure consistent visibility and control, protect all transactions and communications, secure applications and workflows, eliminate unnecessary security gaps, and ensure universal policy enforcement and compliance.

But as digital innovation continues to transform networks, security will no longer be able to function as a separate element of the network. Network environments are already in constant flux, continuously adapting to shifting business requirements and resource demands. Organizations cannot afford to rely on security policies and solutions that, at best, can only react to those network changes after the fact. Instead, networking and security functionality need to be woven together into a single fabric. In that way, security can not only dynamically adapt to any changes in the network, but actually be part of the decision-making process to ensure that any changes do not expose the organization to any unexpected risks.

This content is sponsored by Fortinet.

Nirav Shah is senior director of network security products at Fortinet.


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About the Author(s)

Nirav Shah

Products & Solutions Lead, FortiGate, Fortinet

Nirav Shah has more than 15 years of experience working in the enterprise networking and security industry. He serves as Fortinet''s Products and Solutions Lead for FortiGate network security appliances and focuses on NGFW, SD-WAN, segmentation and secure web gateway use cases. His prior positions include being a senior software developer and senior product manager for enterprise networking and security solutions for Cisco.

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