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Modeling your WAN architecture for the cloud

May 01, 2018 - 4 min read

When drawing building plans, an architect strives to design a structure well suited to its intended use. A network architect has the same role within the domain of data transfer—the creation of an electronic pathway for meeting strategic IT goals.

But if the intent is purposeful design, why are many large organizations still using an old network architecture to accomplish new IT goals related to all-cloud initiatives?

If the old approach works for the new goals, mission accomplished. But our customers tell us this isn’t the case. Their experience is that the use of legacy hub-and-spoke networks to backhaul branch office internet traffic is choking the cloud experience. Latency, data bottlenecks, bandwidth costs, challenges and costs of maintaining security appliances, and struggles to smoothly deploy new applications are issues not well served by the legacy approach.

If you are a network architect, or are otherwise responsible for the network, the goal of this blog is to share food for thought that I hope will help you transform your network for an all-cloud context.

Traffic flows have changed

According to a report by SD-WAN provider Aryaka, almost 50 percent of enterprise traffic is composed of internet and SaaS traffic. Furthermore, Zscaler research shows internet traffic is growing by average compound annual growth rate of 30 percent. It all adds up to volumes of internet traffic that hub-and-spoke networks weren’t designed to handle. Such networks made sense before internet, but in the cloud age, it no longer makes sense to backhaul more than half of all WAN traffic just because that’s the only way the legacy cable runs.

Performance is another consideration. The key to a quality user experience with cloud apps is friction-free performance. Latency is created by the extra hops required in a hub-and-spoke network, and it’s complicated by the large number of long-lived sessions inherent in cloud apps like Office 365. With 12 to 20 connections per user, Office 365 can quickly exhaust firewall ports, and we’re seeing overall network traffic swell up to 40 percent after deployment. When enterprise users of Office 365 don’t have direct access to the internet, they will experience random hangs and connection issues. That’s not the experience anyone wants after deploying Office 365!

The complexity and soaring costs of deploying and managing security and network-related appliances is a well-known theme for an all-cloud initiative. As the person responsible for the network, you are no doubt thinking hard about this issue—especially for hundreds or thousands of remote sites. Even the use of virtual appliances, however, won’t help you here because they have the same capacity limits as physical devices. They can’t scale the way you need to design your cloud architecture. Direct-to-internet can.

Business agility is another challenge for organizations with aging network architectures. Each new branch deployment or upgrade takes time and perpetuates the limited capabilities of the old model. Direct-to-internet enables organizations to fully benefit from the agility and scalability of the cloud, with  faster and simpler deployment, while removing the complexity that can hinder all-cloud initiatives.

Enabling secure cloud transformation

Many large organizations, including AutoNation, have quickly transformed their networks with Zscaler. AutoNation is America’s largest auto retailer, with over 360 new and used car franchises and more than 26,000 employees. It needed fast and secure access to the internet and cloud apps for all locations, and it needed to deploy Microsoft Office 365 companywide. “When faced with having to deploy and manage little stacks of iron in over 360 locations, my immediate thought was going to a cloud-based solution,” says Ken Athanasiou, Chief Information Security Officer at AutoNation.

After choosing Zscaler and completing a successful proof of concept, AutoNation merged directly onto the cloud fast lane and rolled out initial capabilities to all franchises in two to three months. AutoNation fully deployed the platform in less than a year. “The timeframe would simply have not been possible with appliances, and there was immediate value from our deployment,” says Athanasiou.

I invite you to learn more by reading our new white paper, The Key to Successful IT Transformation: Transforming the Network, Transforming the Branch.

As your organization seeks to achieve its cloud-related IT goals, you must address the question of architecture. It’s a great time to look into an all-cloud alternative that will provide the underpinning of your organization’s successful drive to the cloud-enabled future.


Jason Georgi is Director of the Value Management Office at Zscaler.

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