Posted on June 28, 2022

The rubber sometimes doesn’t know where to meet the road when a hot new technology paradigm starts to catch on. Take SASE, the Secure Access Service Edge, for instance. Just a year ago, most buyers were familiar with the term, but 50% of them didn’t have a good understanding of its impact. We’ve all been there. But now the tables are starting to turn, as more IT leaders lean into adoption and begin to recognize the real business implications. New research shows benefits are exceeding expectations across remote work connectivity and security performance.

Masergy and our technology partner, Fortinet, sought to bring some clarity to today’s SASE dialogues by commissioning CIO, a Foundry company, to conduct research on the market demand for SASE and the benefits of a solution investment. CIO surveyed over 200 IT decision makers across eight industries, in companies with at least $2.4 billion in revenue. The recently released research study provides a new view of how enterprises perceive and gain from SASE. Findings reveal that digital services and distributed workforces are accelerating investments in SASE solutions.

Where SASE is exceeding expectations

The survey found that SASE is exceeding expectations in a number of categories. For example, when it came to remote work connectivity, 38% said they expected to see benefits around improved performance and uptime for remote workers. In contrast, 59% of those who already had SASE said it delivered those benefits. For security performance, it was 55% anticipated vs. 69% experienced benefits. Security performance means getting more consistent security policy enforcement and compliance. In fact, in a separate questions, 72% of respondents rated SASE a success due to improved security and compliance.

For cost savings, the differential between anticipated benefits and experienced benefits was 33% to 45%. Elsewhere, visibility into the IT environment came out 33% anticipated vs. 43% experienced. Regarding user experience, experienced benefits exceeded anticipated benefits 52% to 44%.

What’s most interesting about this data set is the greater context of IT expectations. Every digital-first company wants an enterprise-grade application experience delivered everywhere its users are and at all hours of the day and night. The bar has never been higher. So, when the data says SASE goes above and beyond expectations, it must be underscored.

Digital era drives SASE adoption

While the study targeted organizations interested in SASE, it turns out that nearly half of the respondents (49%) have either already adopted the paradigm or are in the process of transitioning. Thirty-six percent have plans to adopt SASE, while another 15% are investigating it.

What’s driving SASE adoption? Ninety-eight percent of survey respondents say that convergence of the network and security is critical or very important. A further 94% say their adoption has accelerated because they have to make digital services and/or remote/hybrid work sustainable for the long term.

Increasingly, SASE is being viewed as a solution for today’s business challenges—solving the reliability and security problems that come with a distributed workforce and more cloud-based resources. When IT leaders need to expand the boundaries of connectivity while still ensuring a high-quality user experience and corporate data protections, SASE offers a compelling solution because it brings multiple, cross-functional IT capabilities together under the simplicity of one solution umbrella. Don’t miss the research summary infographic.

Cloud security drives the most interest

What’s driving the interest in SASE? Survey respondents acknowledged the following as the most serious IT challenges spurring them to invest in SASE’s converged solutions:

  • Cloud security, including visibility and control into cloud environments (52%)
  • Innovation, including cloud application migration and AI (44%)
  • Security strategy, including implementing Zero Trust (41%)
  • Network security, including removing connectivity barriers without jeopardizing security (36%)

Remote collaboration and digital service interactions require cloud-based applications and services. But while the cloud is today’s answer to the Pandemic, the cloud can also obscure security, exposing new risks that require IT teams to take added precautions. In fact, cloud applications are ripe for system misconfigurations that increase the potential for cybersecurity threats.

So, it’s no surprise that the majority of companies find themselves turning to SASE tools to gain greater visibility and control over their cloud resources. The industry consensus holds that a SASE architecture will include Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB), the go-to technology set for addressing security across the countless cloud applications and services companies have now. Additionally, SASE solutions encompass:

  • Secure Web Gateways (SWGs)
  • Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN)
  • Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS)
  • Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)

Learn more about how CASB works with SASE.

SASE can also be used as a starting place for IT organizations interested in implementing Zero Trust security architectures. That’s because many of its capabilities overlap. Analysts at research firm Nemertes, report “most enterprises begin implementation with an software-defined perimeter or a cloud-based Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) service to control access to on-premises resources, in conjunction with a CASB to provide finer-grain control of access to cloud services.”

SASE challenges and how services solve them

This is not to say that SASE is always easy. Challenges with solutions run the gamut with no statistically significant single leader. Research showed that SASE adopters found challenges in implementation and integration, which was cited by 41% of survey respondents. Forty percent said they faced challenges in finding IT expertise eliminating system fragmentation, consolidating tools and avoiding silos. To address these challenges, 63% of respondents either used managed service providers (MSPs) or plan to use them for their SASE deployment processes. A full three quarters said they envisioned working with an MSP for some or all of their ongoing SASE management.

As the folks at Fortinet like to say, “Security is not a DIY exercise,” and Masergy agrees. While SASE solutions vary widely across providers, it’s best to have the option of a fully managed service with the network and security experts to monitor services and mitigate threats 24/7. That’s how Masergy does SASE. Learn more.

Among SASE’s multiple elements, companies prioritize SD-WAN

Given the multi-faceted nature of SASE and each enterprise’s unique operational requirements, not every SASE component is prioritized to the same degree. SD-WAN, for example, ranked as the most important SASE capability. Nearly two-thirds of respondents rated SD-WAN as either number 1 (35%) or 2 (26%) on a 5-point scale. Other high-priority capabilities included CASB, FWaaS, SWG and ZTNA.

Why does SD-WAN take the lead? Here’s my take on it. SD-WAN tools give IT real-time visibility into what’s happening inside complex network environments and the ability to govern bandwidth at a granular level to control traffic flow. These sophisticated methods for mitigating contention for bandwidth can be highly effective at preserving employee productivity.

The platform matters and so does the number of vendors

Ninety-five percent want a unified platform with a common operating system. In this context, interoperability between system elements is also important, with 48% of respondents saying that flexibility and interoperability are important in their choice of whom they will select in making SASE a success. These are important points. SASE solutions require five different technologies (sometimes built by five different companies) to all work together as a unified toolbox.

As the data shows, you want to avoid patchworked solutions. Instead, opt for solutions where toolsets come together organically—built on a common operating platform. Consequently, Gartner issues this warning: “Be wary of vendors that propose to deliver [SASE] services by linking a large number of features via VM service chaining, especially when the products come from a number of acquisitions or partnerships. This approach may speed time to market but will result in inconsistent services, poor manageability and high latency.”

Attitudes are similar when it comes to selecting SASE providers. Vendor consolidation is paramount with 87% of respondents stating they prefer solutions manufactured by three or fewer vendors. Indeed — it’s abundantly clear today that IT teams have too many technologies and vendors to manage effectively. SASE helps reduce the chaos of provider sprawl.

AI critical for turning SASE into an automated network

Ninety-one percent of respondents think it’s highly important for a SASE solution to have Artificial Intelligence (AI) features. That’s a very savvy insight. Buyers understand that AI is no longer an experiment—it’s a necessity. What’s now coming into focus is the perfect marriage of SASE and AI in optimizing security and network performance.

How do SASE and AI work together? Through solutions known as AIOps (AI for IT Operations). AI engines need three things to automate IT functions:

  1. Observable data flows across both the network and security domains,
  2. Control over security and network functions (both proactive and reactive) and
  3. A modern IT infrastructure in which to thrive.

SASE solutions deliver on that needset. Components share information within a software-defined environment, helping AIOps generate insights and actionable intelligence across both IT domains. Plus, SASE’s unified control plane allows AIOps to automatically administer changes across the broader IT environment to strengthen security and optimize network performance. This combination delivers the key elements needed to build the autonomous networks of the future. Learn how SASE and AI are building the future in this Forbes Technology Council article.

New data helps justify a SASE investment

Thanks to this new research, IT leaders can learn from early adopters, seeing what companies prioritize in making their strategic decisions and where benefits payout beyond just initial predictions. It’s clear that while modernizing the network and simplifying security, SASE is helping companies advance their digital transformation agendas with fewer headaches.

Download the complete research report

Franz Chavez

Franz Chavez serves as the Vice President of Solutions Engineering for Masergy Communications. A member of the Masergy Solutions Engineering Team since 2010, Franz brings 45 years of technology experience, with the last 31 years focused on networking and systems infrastructure. Prior to joining Masergy, Franz held Engineering and Leadership roles at companies small and large, within IT, Manufacturing and Service Provider organizations.

Related Content