Built-in Security from the Network’s Inception

Markus Nispel Vice President of International Markets, Office of the CTO Published 27 Apr 2022

What needs to be built to turn your business into a functional and secure Infinite Enterprise?

Answering this question is likely to be the biggest challenge to businesses today. A successful roadmap for operating a business that relies on an enterprise network requires a platform that follows the trends of how society evolves. What they need is a solution that adapts for any of the surprises that will almost assuredly arise.

The pandemic has accelerated the need for organizations to meet the needs of people dispersed across the world, whether they are customers, clients, consumers, or employees. The enterprise must be built at scale to reach each of them, and it must focus on their needs first and foremost, rather than building technology just for technology’s sake. That’s an Infinite Enterprise, one able to pivot and react to customers’ needs as they arise and evolve.

As a business leader, if you haven’t moved in that direction already, I expect you’re looking at it or aware your competitors have done so.

The next question is how to implement change? How do we ready ourselves for the evolving world? What needs to be built?

One of the significant issues in developing any enterprise networking strategy is where to begin. There are two major elements to consider when building any network: It must meet the needs of the consumer – the people who will ultimately use it. And it must be secure – because building a network that can easily be tampered with is pointless.

Enterprise networks usually provide security, but accessing the secure network is repeatedly a troublesome experience for consumers and administrators. The network becomes hard to use because of the implemented armor. Often, the security is bolted on at the end of a deployment project as an afterthought. Even if the security works, it is a nuisance, an extra step and extra level to integrate, always the square peg hammered into the round hole. Even if you forget about functionality, bolt-on security makes scalability equal difficult. Every time you build out the system or adapt it, there are more bolt-ons that must follow.

Soon, network management becomes unwieldy, and security gaps emerge, despite best efforts. Administrators must monitor different tools and many systems, swiveling in their chairs to keep up with all the screens and monitors. That approach is inefficient at best, and a broken model at worst.

So what is the answer? Enterprise networks and security need to be constructed as a single solution. Security needs to integrate with the network, so that the security scales with the network. It’s not bolt-on, it’s built-in. Traditional security vendors don’t do that, but built-in security is where the market is headed.

Additionally, security must be simple for the user and administrator. Too often, security is an inhibitor: It just gets in the way. People don’t like using VPNs, despite the enhanced security. Instead, users devise workaround solutions, putting functionality over security. And as soon as they do that, guess what? They are no longer secure.

How do we stop this behavior? Simplicity is essential, and the security experience needs to be frictionless.

If you look at the three tenets of the Infinite Enterprise, they work together like this: the infinite distribution of people forces businesses to work at scale to reach them, and then organizations must engage them in a customer-centric way to hold and keep them as consumers, clients, or employees.

You might think then that security falls under “at scale.” Security must be a separate overlay solution, right? I think that has been the traditional approach to building networks, which is why we have so many bolt-on solutions.

Instead, we need to put security under customer-centricity. We need to stop thinking of security as working in conflict with the network. Security must be built as part of the network so closely that everyone sees the benefit of the approach. It has to be seamlessly integrated to scale, but not just thought of as an element or separate component.

The goal is to achieve a win on both sides. Here’s the thinking behind the approach: Effortless user experience will lead to increased adoption because people will want to use the system. Integrated security into the system reduces complexity, so administrators and users prefer it and are less likely to build workarounds.

Let’s walk through the thinking:

  1.       Take a Fabric Approach.

Simple outcomes often require some complexity behind the scenes. Fabrics are inherently complex – that’s why they are called fabrics, after all. Network components need to integrate and mesh with each other. As your business expands into infinite distribution, you need that concept to scale seamlessly. But businesses lose time and money worrying about scalability.  This is why cloud management is central to enterprise networking and security. The cloud allows you to scale up and scale down to one.

Fabrics also allow you to expand. Let’s say you have five switches to connect. You have to configure and connect each. If you add a sixth, you often must re-configure all six switches. With a fabric approach, that stress goes away. When new devices are plugged-in, everything configures automatically. The network services automatically. If you add a seventh switch, you also just plug it in. The seventh addition learns from the others. Effortless scalability.

A fabric approach is the way of the future. You can apply that thinking to switches, information, and wireless nodes; you name it.  Various fabric implementations are available, but what they have in common is that they are automatically extendable. A fabric approach provides load distribution, prevents redundancy, optimizes routing information, and is scalable and more efficient. And that’s why fabric is a core building block of the Infinite Enterprise.

  1.       Adopt and Integrate Zero Trust

If we apply a zero trust approach, all of the fabric capabilities can scale to the extent of the Infinite Enterprise and remain secure. A zero trust security model stops you right at the start, with the least-privileged principle. That principle essentially is only to grant access when it is required. If you don’t need access, you don’t get access. That way, if someone gets into your system, that person can only impersonate you, limiting the damage they can do.

Identity is key to zero trust. Understanding who is on the network at all times is critical. Identity and zero trust capabilities should be best utilized when built into the network upon inception.

Integrated zero trust is an idea whose time has come. Cybersecurity insurance is increasingly moving to a least-privileged principle now. The market wants it to happen, and companies increasingly will feel pressure to adopt it.

  1.       Take a Consumer-Centric approach to Zero Trust.

Consumer-centric approaches increase adoption and increase security at the same time. Security must be an enabler for people, not an inhibitor. You rarely go wrong putting your consumer first in your thoughts. Once again, an effortless user experience will lead to increased adoption.

We have many building blocks to create the seamless experience people want. That’s the critical first step: Build a seamless, secure experience in your network. You can’t effectively scale if you’re not secure, and you can’t scale with speed unless security is integrated into your network from the beginning.

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