How SD-WAN will Change your IT Department
by Alex Teteris, Transformation Strategy Director at Zscaler
We’ve been covering SD-WAN extensively in blogs—this is the fourth in a recent series—and the theme that has run throughout them all is that SD-WAN has the potential to reshape the enterprise network. SD-WAN allows companies to move away from routing all traffic through centralized data centers via MPLS and instead enables them to use localized connections and ISPs to get faster connections at lower costs while leveraging cloud-based security to ensure they deliver identical protection for all users across all locations.
Because SD-WAN is transformational, it can result in many changes to the ways that companies structure their IT departments. The inclination of those in IT may be to view it as a threat, as SD-WAN enables companies to automate much of the work IT does regarding network configuration and routing. Cloud security also automates a variety of tasks that are currently manual, such as security updates. But it’s important to recognize that, even though IT’s role will change, it will become even more critical in the SD-WAN world. This blog examines the new role of IT with SD-WAN.
Shifting roles and culture
With SD-WAN, the internet becomes more crucial to operations for all businesses. That doesn’t have to result in increased complexity, even with local breakouts. In fact, to avoid the complexity of managing hundreds of local ISP contracts, companies often work with a single provider that subcontracts with local ISPs and manages those relationships for you.
But this situation also means that the ability to debug internet performance problems will be essential to success—and IT will have a vital role in ensuring these issues are addressed.
Perhaps the biggest change for IT departments will be cultural—changing how IT staffs view their relationship to the business as a whole. Rather than serving as the department that builds and creates technological fixes for the organization, IT will become the department that helps the company consume technological resources in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
SD-WAN will free up IT teams to focus on new streams of work, spending less time on network configuration and more on architecture. IT teams have the opportunity to become more transparent and useful to the business from a value perspective. They’ll be in a position to explain to the organization the benefits and possible drawbacks of leveraging the internet. Everyone is familiar with what the internet offers from a personal standpoint, but IT will become responsible for showcasing how it can work for the enterprise. This will involve showing the cost savings and improved user experience possible using SD-WAN, and the reduction in time and network support services required to meet the needs of a worldwide business.
IT will also need to explain how SD-WAN can be made scalable and trustworthy enough to meet business demands. By leading these initiatives, IT will come to be seen as the department that delivers value to the organization rather than just managing infrastructure.
As IT teams move from building capabilities to helping companies consume them through cloud-based providers, they can take a step back, asking questions like, “What has the business asking for? How can we deliver that now that we have more resources? Strategically, what should
we be doing to help the business? How can we retain skilled people by training them and filling skills gaps in other areas?” IT teams can focus on value-added areas like these that will endear them to leadership.
SD-WAN offers increased visibility for IT across the organization. SD-WAN provides reporting on what applications are being accessed via specific connections with details that far exceed what has been possible in the past. This means that shadow IT is now out of the shadows; IT can now see which SaaS applications are being used and by whom. That’s a giant step forward on its own.
Using that information, IT can reform its security and network models to make them more efficient and secure. For instance, an IT team may find that users are listening to music on YouTube because they’re prohibited from using Spotify, which would be much less bandwidth-intensive. With insights into usage, IT can address certain policies and create opportunities for significant savings.
As the internet becomes more crucial to business, and the intelligence SD-WAN utilizes to increase automation and orchestration pervades network strategies, IT will also move away from managing IP addresses and ports to managing user groups and applications. This is a more advanced, secure, and future-proof way to manage networks, and it greatly reduces the administrative burden on IT. In fact, as a whole, with SD-WAN and cloud security, the operational activity of IT is greatly reduced because the focus is no longer on traffic patterns and examining quality of service. With SD-WAN, IT teams set rules that are pushed out and applied to any attempted connection anywhere.
SD-WAN thus may spur IT employees and teams to re-skill and rethink their roles. IT must be more closely aligned with the business, and this offers up new importance for IT, as it becomes a position dominated not by functional tasks, but higher-level thinking and skills that can transform the way the business operates. IT teams will have to understand the policies and governance approaches that make SD-WAN possible and will have the freedom to create scalable application architectures using SaaS infrastructure rather than being bogged down in configuration issues. As this cultural and technical shift occurs with SD-WAN, IT should see its job get easier and its visibility enhanced rather than diminished.