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Securely connecting the hybrid workforce and network edge: SD-WAN's role in a SASE architecture

12/03/2021 | 02:52pm EST

Over the last 20 years of enterprise computing, we've seen big changes in work environments and IT setups.

At the turn of the millennium, most employees worked at headquarters or in a branch office, and most software ran from on-site servers. Networks were designed with centralized architecture, with all traffic being routed through the corporate data center over MPLS or VPN. As a result, the entire security stack could be deployed on-premises in a single place.

Remote work has been around for decades (the term "telecommuting" was coined in 1973 by a NASA engineer), but it gathered momentum in the 2000s as laptops and Wi-Fi became commonplace while startup culture gained traction. Employers started recognizing the need for remote-work guidelines and digital nomads evangelized the lifestyle of "working from anywhere."[1]

Around the same time, cloud computing took shape with the reinvention of virtual machines and the emergence of application service providers and multi-tenant SaaS providers in the late 1990s. Public cloud services and productivity apps emerged in the 2000s and exploded in the 2010s, driven by cost savings and flexibility.[2]

As workers have moved out of the office and computing has moved into the cloud, there's been a steep rise in internet traffic, and more work is being done off-network. Backhauling this traffic through MPLS lines and VPNs is more expensive and leads to performance problems. But direct internet access is risky because it bypasses the central security stack.

In the wake of this transformation in work and IT environments, your organization is likely running into challenges in two specific areas: securing your remote workers and securing your network edge. Today's answer to these challenges is a redesigned network architecture. Secure access service edge (SASE) incorporates a software-defined WAN, bringing networking and security together in the cloud where computing is happening.

You can get a thorough overview of SASE architecture by reading the e-book, The House That SASE Built.

Let's delve into the specifics of these two use cases and the SASE and SD-WAN benefits for each.

Use case 1: Secure remote workers

Protecting employees, customers, and other users from cyber threats while providing seamless connectivity is challenging on several fronts:

  • Enforcing safe access: Provisioning remote workers and connecting branches at scale creates a lot of complexity across IT, security, and networking teams. The demand for broader access also intensifies security threat vectors. Since employees need secure access everywhere, security services must be everywhere too. But it's difficult to verify users' identities and the health of their devices, and security policies aren't consistently applied across environments. In addition, users are left unprotected when they decide to bypass the VPN and on-prem security stack.
  • Keeping up with evolving threats: Gaps in protection are hard to pinpoint and fix consistently. Responses take more time when stronger integrations across the security stack are lacking.
  • Maintaining performance: When remote environments and connectivity aren't under organizational control, it can be hard to pinpoint the source of performance problems and get them resolved with providers.

According to the three Cs, an integrated approach for SASE, here's how SD-WAN helps address these challenges, delivering secure consistent access to apps and data from anywhere:


  • Internet traffic moves directly and securely from the user to the web and SaaS apps.
  • Users can access frequently used internal apps without logging in to the VPN.
  • SD-WAN "overlay" networks can seamlessly connect users, machines, and applications across clouds and data centers. An SD-WAN solution that is fully aware of SaaS applications can provide an optimal path to them by programming the network with the best path selection and adjusting it according to application and network telemetry.


  • Network administrators can enforce security and access policies consistently across remote locations.
  • User identity and device health are verified before connecting to apps.


  • Combining networking and security provides observability across the environment, including the network, internet, and cloud. Administrators get actionable insights from every user and app over any network.
  • Investigations and threat response are streamlined because of integrated security.

Use case 2: Secure edge

Multicloud environments, which use cloud services from more than one public cloud provider, are driving the need to secure the cloud and access edge.

Organizations adopt multicloud strategies in order to hit their business objectives and take advantage of cost savings and innovation while reducing risk. With distributed users needing to access applications in multiple clouds from anywhere, at any time, organizations must provide security closer to the user and edge to minimize network latency and stay agile.

Finding an optimal balance between protection and performance is challenging in cloud environments:

  • Managing complexity: Multi-vendor cloud deployments bolted onto a traditional network architecture often lead to inconsistent performance and poor user experience.
  • Resolving performance issues: Without visibility, it's difficult to identify performance problems for end-users. Without insights, it's difficult to know what action to take to solve them.
  • Applying consistent security: Policies need to protect users, devices, and applications from the latest cyberattacks while being scalable for access from anywhere. Authentication needs to be seamless.

Again, SASE and SD-WAN solve these problems, safeguarding the network edge.


  • Multicloud access is optimized for secure, consistent application performance.
  • Cloud-delivered WAN architecture connects users to apps through a single fabric with zero-touch provisioning, intelligent path selection, and automated cloud connectivity.


  • Access to the internet is secure, fast, and reliable.
  • Users access all applications through a zero-trust framework, whether they're on-premises or in the cloud.


  • Consumption is simplified and deployment is faster thanks to the integration of networking and security.
  • Observability supplies actionable insights to resolve issues.
  • A common cloud-delivered security policy is enforced consistently, everywhere.

for more benefits of SASE and SD-WAN.

on how to build SASE your way with Cisco.

[1]The History of Remote Work, Toptal, 2020.

[2]The History of Cloud Computing Explained, TechTarget, June 2021.



Cisco Systems Inc. published this content on 03 December 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 03 December 2021 19:51:07 UTC.

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