Unveiling Network and Security Architectures: SD-WAN, SASE, SSE, and Zero Trust

By Jaye Tillson, Director of Strategy, Axis Security

Over the past few years, our world has evolved at a rapid pace. This rapid evolution has given rise to innovative networking and security architectures such as SD-WAN, SASE, SSE, and Zero Trust. These are relatively new architectures (excluding SD-WAN) and I often get asked what are the differences between them and what are their key features so in this article, I will cover my definition of each, and highlight what I believe to be the key features.

SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network)

SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Network, is a technology that is designed to simplify the management and optimization of wide area networks (WANs). Traditional WANs often struggled to provide reliable connectivity, low latency, and efficient traffic routing across geographically dispersed locations. SD-WAN was designed to address these challenges by using software to dynamically manage and route network traffic based on real-time conditions. It enables organizations to leverage multiple network connections, such as MPLS, broadband, and cellular, while ensuring optimal performance and cost-effectiveness.

Key Features:

  • Dynamic path selection: Traffic is directed along the most suitable path based on application requirements and network conditions.
  • Centralized management: Network policies can be easily configured, monitored, and managed from a centralized console.
  • Application-aware routing: SD-WAN can prioritize critical applications, ensuring their performance even in congested network conditions.
  • Cost optimization: By utilizing multiple network links, organizations can reduce reliance on expensive dedicated lines.

SASE (Secure Access Service Edge)

SASE, or Secure Access Service Edge, envisioned by Gartner in 2019, is a holistic networking and security architecture that merges network connectivity (SD-WAN) and security services (SSE) into a single cloud-based solution. The core concept of SASE is to provide secure access to applications and data regardless of user location. By converging network and security functions, SASE aims to simplify management, improve user experience, and enhance overall security posture.

Key Features:

  • Cloud-native architecture: SASE operates from the cloud, allowing for scalability, flexibility, and easy updates.
  • Zero Trust security model: SASE assumes zero trust, requiring strict verification for users and devices before granting access.
  • WAN optimization: SASE optimizes traffic routing to ensure fast and reliable application performance.
  • Integrated security services: SASE combines features like firewalling, secure web gateways, data loss prevention, and more.

SSE (Secure Service Edge)

SSE, or Secure Service Edge, released by Gartner in 2021 places a strong emphasis on ensuring security at the service level. At its core is the concept of Zero Trust. In an SSE architecture, security is embedded directly into the service infrastructure, reducing the need for external security tools. This approach enhances protection for services and data, fostering a secure-by-design environment.

Key Features:

Service-level security: Security measures are integrated at the service layer, safeguarding data and applications.

Decentralized security controls: Each service has its security controls, reducing the potential impact of a breach.

Agility and scalability: SSE supports rapid deployment and scaling of services without compromising security.

Automated threat response: SSE platforms can autonomously respond to security threats based on predefined policies.

Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a security framework that challenges the traditional perimeter-based security model. It operates under the assumption that threats can originate from both internal and external sources. Instead of trusting entities based on their location (inside or outside the network perimeter), Zero Trust requires verification of all users, devices, and applications before granting access to resources.

Key Principles:

  • Verify before trust: Users and devices must be authenticated and authorized before accessing any resources.
  • Least privilege access: Access rights are granted based on the principle of least privilege, limiting potential damage.
  • Micro-segmentation: Networks are divided into smaller segments, reducing the lateral movement of threats.
  • Continuous monitoring: Ongoing monitoring ensures that security policies are consistently enforced.

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