Software-defined networks can be an efficient way to blend networks without compromising security
Mergers and acquisitions inherently create times of growth, opportunity and excitement for enterprises, but they also can create challenges from the perspective of IT resources and staffing. The IT structure is critical to M&A success and the speed of integration, as it often dictates how the acquiring company can accommodate the newcomer, meet new bandwidth needs and securely unite the companies without significantly increasing complexity, capital expense and the need for additional support staff.
Making more than 70 acquisitions per year, a professional services company provides insight into how on-demand network capabilities create an elastic infrastructure that accelerates M&A without exhausting resources. Using a software-defined network platform and extending SD-WAN managed services are an effective approach for activating and integrating assets quickly without compromising security in the existing environments. In this article, I explore the challenges of integration, how one company overcomes them, and several key software-defined capabilities that enable aggressive and effective M&A strategies.
Acquisitions: A Cesspool of IT Challenges
The union of two companies is no simple marriage. The consolidation of assets unites multiple (typically different) IT networks each with a plethora of underlying technologies, vendors and security approaches and policies in place. Intellectual data must be consolidated, sensitive customer data must be unified without compromising privacy and new users must be assimilated—all without major disruption to the employee and customer experience.
After M&A, enterprises may be left with complex IT infrastructures formed from the integration of different technology and compute platforms, which can make overall performance optimization and security credentials disjointed and difficult to manage.
A major hotel chain acquisition may expose why companies can fall victim to a data breach. In November 2018, one hotel company reported the breach, and a Forbes article asserted that the complexities stemming from combining data were most likely the culprit. With class-action lawsuits and a damaged brand, many executives were reminded of just how important it is to thread security precautions throughout the integration process. How can IT safely accommodate the M&A process?
Making IT More Malleable and Secure: Start With Segmentation
As mentioned earlier, a rapid-growth professional services company has learned how to make IT infrastructure more agile and secure. After a modernization effort that included an SD-WAN-enabled network platform, the global enterprise turned its rigid architecture into a more flexible environment. As a result, the company has reduced the acquisition process from 300 to 90 days.
How does their strategy work?
Segmentation is a leading tactic. To make the cutover, newly acquired companies are brought into a separate network during a gestation period. This effectively brings the newcomer into the host IT environment, yet partitions them off from a security perspective. Working in an isolated zone, the segmented traffic is unable to co-mingle. This creates fewer opportunities for potential threats for the host and current environment. Additional security policies can be applied only to the segmented network, meaning security rules can be more stringent until the new environment is fully evaluated and any threats are mitigated.
It May Not Come Easy
Segmentation strategies are exploding because they are considered sound security practices applicable to a variety of today’s IT needs. In fact, Masergy customers manage at least six discrete virtual networks on average. Many are using micro-segmentation to allow an increasing number of connected devices and endpoints securely. Likewise, they’re using it to explore IoT technologies and secure networks for compliance purposes.
But segmentation doesn’t come easy for every IT team and network.
Rigid legacy networks can be a roadblock to segmentation, which explains why this enterprise had to invest in software-defined networking platforms before it could significantly reduce its integration process. In rigid environments, segmentation is known to cause complexity. It creates operational and logistical barriers including interoperability issues that can complicate management and clear visibility across all environments.
More often than not, segmentation is inadequately documented and not managed from a central place or repository. This can lead to operational misalignment when it comes to network and security operations, which is why some IT departments avoid segmentation altogether. Some others aren’t aware that it’s an option. Many network services are sold and deployed as a single, flat environment or come with additional segmentation costs. Many providers demand additional fees or their platform lacks the capability to deliver effective segmentation. However, modern solutions are solving this problem.
Keys to M&A Success: Technical Requirements
As a secret to M&A success, segmentation requires core technical capabilities.
- Software-defined networks and SD-WAN empower enterprises to more easily provision virtual private network environments without adding management headaches and IT complexities. These offer the most advanced orchestration and automation tools. Some providers will even allow customers to create an unlimited number of segments. Be sure to ask how many segments you can create without increasing cost and complexity.
- Centralized network management and unified portals allow you to view network and application performance data for the entire WAN in real-time, no matter how many segments you have. Online dashboards give enterprise IT teams the transparency and service controls they need to make adjustments on the fly. So, it’s easy to ensure the newly segmented networks are receiving the support, bandwidth and security parameters needed to operate efficiently and effectively without being a drag on other systems.
- In highly segmented environments, security services including managed detection and response, machine learning and behavior analytics become requirements because automation and outsourced security monitoring reduce the intricacy and multiplicity of micro-segmentation. Service providers are also versed in how to design and apply stringent security policies to the acquired company’s network to rapidly identify and mitigate threats.
Ultimately, it’s not just about the capability to segment the network, but rather the wider ecosystem of services and support needed once your network reaches a level of M&A sophistication. Much like network segmentation empowers the union of two companies, the division of responsibilities will enable your IT systems and teams to expand without significantly impacting risk and cost.