What’s the Difference Between SD-WAN and SASE?

Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) are two prominent technologies that have emerged to address the evolving needs of modern networking. While both aim to enhance network performance and security, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart – something we’re often asked to define! Let’s delve right into it.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN, in essence, is a technology that optimises the management and operation of a WAN by leveraging software-defined networking principles. Traditional WANs relied heavily on expensive, hardware-centric infrastructure, often leading to inefficiencies in terms of both cost and performance. SD-WAN replaces this with a more agile and flexible approach, allowing organisations to use a combination of private and public networks, such as MPLS, broadband, and LTE, to meet their specific requirements. This is often a more cost-effective method.

One of the primary objectives of SD-WAN is to improve connectivity, application performance, and overall user experience. It achieves this by dynamically selecting the most efficient and cost-effective path for data traffic based on real-time network conditions (dynamic path selection). SD-WAN solutions also provide centralised management, making it easier to configure, monitor, and troubleshoot network configurations.

So what about SASE?

SASE represents a paradigm shift in network security by converging networking and security services into a single cloud-native platform. The architecture of SASE integrates SD-WAN capabilities with the most up to date security services, offering a unified solution to address the challenges posed by the increasing adoption of cloud applications and the rise of hybrid ways of working. It can integrate secure web gateways, firewall-as-a-service, data loss prevention, and secure remove access – plus do everything your SD-WAN does.

SASE incorporates Zero Trust Network Access principles, meaning that it doesn’t inherently trust any user or device, regardless of its location. This is a departure from the traditional security model that relied on a ‘castle-and-moat’ approach, where internal networks were considered safe, and external networks were treated as untrusted. SASE considers every user and device as untrusted and enforces security policies based on identity, device health, and other contextual factors – absolutely essential in today’s world where work, study and socialising can be on any device, anywhere, anytime.

Let’s bring this together

In summary, while SD-WAN primarily focuses on optimising and managing network connectivity, SASE takes a holistic approach by combining SD-WAN with a comprehensive set of security services. SD-WAN provides the agility and flexibility needed for efficient network operations, and although it has some security capabilities, they are typically limited to basic firewall capabilities and do not provide the comprehensive security stack SASE offers. In contrast, SASE enhances security by adopting a Zero Trust model and integrating security functions into the fabric of the network.

Organisations often find value in deploying both SD-WAN and SASE together, creating a robust and secure network infrastructure that meets the demands of the modern digital landscape. As technology continues to evolve, the integration of networking and security functions will likely become increasingly essential for organisations striving to meet the emerging security risks whilst keeping network management within the realms of realistic resourcing.

If you’d like to find out more about how to keep your organisation secure against today’s threats, take a look at our network security services, or download our partner eBook on planning a route to SASE.

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