Why it’s Not Just a “Cloud First” Approach

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Managed security service providers (MSSPs) help their customers most when they can stay ahead of the curve, providing guidance that’s attuned to the latest strategies for risk management, compliance as well as business enablement. For the post-pandemic, new normal, this means helping customers understand that effective security and networking are essential elements of any cloud strategy.

Author: Jonathan Nguyen-Duy, VP of field CISO, Fortinet
Author: Jonathan Nguyen-Duy, VP of field CISO, Fortinet

Today, MSSPs should be advising their customers to get their heads out of the clouds and base their IT plans on “solid ground,” and that includes putting networking and security on an equal standing.

Over the past few years the “cloud-first” approach dominated priorities. In many cases there was almost an exclusive focus on migrating applications and data to the cloud and cloud native solutions — with security and networking as an afterthought. However, a quick glance across the enterprises and large businesses shows that while cloud adoption is a priority the vast majority of organizations actually employ a hybrid cloud approach. And it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. To meet the shifting requirements and move up the value chain, many MSSPs and MSPs are now considering offering Secure SD-WAN solutions that address both networking and security.

A good cloud strategy is about much more than simply migrating apps and data. Ultimately, success depends on how well networks, security and computers work together to deliver better experiences and business outcomes. So, when CISOs and CIOs reference integration and convergence, they’re talking about tools designed to work together and be managed through a single pane of glass. This allows them to see the networking, security, and cloud elements of their network — including on-premises, cloud, at home and mobile workers — working together. This is what the market is demanding. It means that convergence, interoperability and coordination are the new standards for what is considered best-of-breed.

The Previous Philosophy

Before the current shift in philosophy, the typical cloud-first strategy began with the adoption of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), followed by migrating some of the organization’s less critical applications into a cloud — private or public and eventually a cloud native environment.

However, that all began to change when it became clear that the cloud was not going to solve every problem. We’re now seeing that cloud doesn’t always mean the most cost effective, agile or quickest solution. In addition, not everything can be, or should be, moved to a public cloud. Indeed, intellectual property, pension data and other compliance-related resources usually stays on-prem.

At the same, the need for accelerated, data driven decision-making pushed computing closer and closer to where it’s used — on the enterprise edge. The result is that today’s network ecosystems are more distributed, decentralized and complex than ever before. Today, the ultimate goal of most IT teams is to provide users with the same, consistent experience regardless of whether they are using the organization’s private cloud, core network or cloud service provider platform, working from a branch or home office, or even somewhere in between.

It's all about leveraging data to be more predictive and proactive in delivering consistent networking, security and computing for new and better ways for customers, partners and employees to interact with a brand. After all, that’s the object of the exercise: to safely open-up the enterprise and unlock value. This is why integrating SD-WAN, Zero Trust Network Access and cloud services as part of a cohesive digital infrastructure is so critical.

An Evolving Cloud Strategy

Cloud, cloud adoption and digital transformation are the “big story,” which calls out a need for consistent networking and security to access cloud resources. This approach reflects the larger macro trends around convergence and platform consolidation, including cybersecurity mesh architectures and solutions like SASE that converge SD-WAN and security with the cloud.

Operating intervals are so tight that you can't really have a successful cloud strategy unless your users can access cloud resources consistently without issues. Tools like SD-WAN are vital because its application performance awareness and intelligent routing can optimize connections and access on the fly so you always have the right level of performance.

For MSSPs, it should be about helping their customers manage risk and compliance while delivering better experiences and outcomes. This is impossible with legacy solutions based on silos of tools, platforms and people. It’s about understanding that a successful cloud strategy requires considering networking and security from the outset. Remember, the cloud isn't a panacea and it’s still someone else’s infrastructure, platform and software. So, truly understanding the shared responsibility model and your team’s role is critical.

Be aware that user expectations from this point on are only going to be more demanding. As we emerge from the pandemic, we all have millennial expectations that every interaction will be richer with greater levels customization and personalization, as well as greater security and privacy assurance.

Indeed, our customers want every interaction to be a rich experience. There's no way we get the genie back in the bottle. Your customers want a much more responsive computing experience irrespective of location, device or access methodology. Today’s customers are more connected, sophisticated and less patient than ever before. It’s you job to make each experience seamless and compelling. That only happens when networking, security and computing are working as an integrated solution that collects, shares and acts on information in real time.

The Promise of the Cloud

At its heart, a network is nothing more than a system for connecting users and computing resources.  Whether it’s on a campus environment, as in the early days of DARPA projects, or across a contactless commerce global enterprise. However, meeting the demands of a hybrid workforce, constantly churning technology and fickle customers have made networks far more complex and distributed than ever. The cloud helped accelerate that transformation, but the elasticity and scalability that made the cloud so vital now needs to be available across the network and security. Tools like SD-WAN, ZTNA and SASE manifest those drivers and are foundational moving forward.

Coming out of the pandemic, things are changing even more rapidly with the emergence of Web3 and forces driving greater decentralization. MSSPs can help their customers to navigate these challenges by offering integrated networking and security solutions that reduce complexity and create new brand interactions — ultimately a successful cloud strategy.

We’re now at an inflection point with the realization that traditional siloed approaches aren’t going to deliver the integrated digital infrastructure needed for next stage of digital transformation. More than ever, a cloud-first strategy means thinking about networking, security and the cloud from the outset. This is where MSSPs’ access to technology and skills creates a great opportunity to better serve customers and capture market share.

Author Jonathan Nguyen is VP of field CISO at Fortinet. Read more Fortinet blogs hereRegularly contributed guest blogs are part of MSSP Alert’s sponsorship program.