IT service providers (ITSPs) have made a name for themselves helping customers in every industry make the transition to digital. Over the past decade, they’ve seen double digit growth, hit trillion-dollar revenue targets, and continue to make headway as a catalyst to the world’s demand for digital services.

To beat competition and deliver outsized returns, some ITSPs decided to specialize in niche sectors requiring rare skills, compliance capabilities, and so on. One such organization, serving top-tier companies in its niche, struggled to move to the cloud and leverage the scalability and agility it offers while fulfilling risk compliance and security requirements. They felt that the ‘safe’ thing to do was to host information and applications on-premise in datacenters, and perceived this decision to be in the interest of their stakeholders. The pandemic proved them wrong.

The reality is that the cloud can be just as secure as any on-premise infrastructure.

Further, barring use cases such as hosting application backups and historical records, cloud solutions are more agile, offer more control, allow for smarter optimizations, and offer better user experiences – deliver significantly better value to organizations for every dollar of IT expenditure they make.

Over the past two years, the ITSP has worked with Cisco to eliminate its hardware footprint and adopt an accelerated vision to move to the cloud. What’s most impressive is that they’ve managed to turn security, which was the organization’s biggest concern prior to the pandemic, into a competitive advantage.

Hybrid Work: Scaling from 120+ offices to 35,000+ locations

Despite a rough start to the pandemic, the ITSP client organization was able to quickly deploy solutions that enabled their staff to work remotely. Their vision, however, extended to cover the hybrid future where teams and individuals can decide where, when, and how they want to work.

Cisco’s Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution, which comprises of technologies such as SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network) and cloud-native network security components such as CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker), FWaaS (Firewall-as-a-Service), and ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access), provided the ITSP with all the security they needed.

In the office which encompasses a network of more than 120 locations, the ITSP leverages Cisco’s Unified Threat Management (UTM) ‘branch-in-a-box’ solution powered by Cisco Meraki which bundles a robust firewall, a strong gateway anti-virus, and intrusion detection & prevention capabilities into a single platform.

As a result of the UTM, the ITSP gains capabilities visibility into hidden applications and vulnerabilities, malware and intrusion prevention, protection against internal and external attacks, and more. The ITSP has also leveraged Cisco’s Identity Service Engine (ISE) for wired and wireless access control for users to achieve uniform policies and delivering consistent experiences irrespective of how users connect to the network.

Aside from Cisco Meraki (which powers the UTM), the customer also leverages Cisco Umbrella and Cisco AnyConnect, all of which make it possible for the organization to truly enable hybrid work.

Essentially, what this means is that even when users are not in their office environment, or when they are off the virtual private network (VPN), the organization will be able to provide security at the DNS layer without additional agents or end-user action to protect the organization, push ‘business-as-usual’ policies, and deliver the workloads and experiences that users expect.

As a result of these solutions, the organization is no longer running 120 locations, it’s operating nearly 35,000 ‘branches-of-one’ with each employee connected to the organization, its data, applications, and clients, in a secure virtual environment. Further, since the solutions work seamlessly with each other, orchestration at such a grand scale has not been complex or complicated in any shape or form.

Ultimately, in its journey to build the best hybrid work experience for its employees, the ITSP has also managed to eliminate its hardware footprint and move to the cloud.

An important point to make at this point is that migrating to the cloud allows organizations to move services to the ‘edge’, and as the ‘edge’ gets more intelligent, the dependence on the hardware footprint is further reduced – and eliminated.

Becoming solution-focused, fit-for-purpose, and low-maintenance

Thought leaders have always emphasized the fact that climbing the digital maturity curve helps organizations become nimble and agile. Our client now knows that this is true for any organization using a practical blueprint built by subject matter experts with the right experience.

For example, one of the concerns that the ITSP client had going into their new digital transformation plan was that their business heavily relied on VoIP, video conferencing, SaaS, and so on, and the dependency on all of these has increased significantly in the hybrid work era. It has also complicated the management of user experiences and security.

Thanks to Meraki’s MX, the organization will send VoIP, video conferencing, and whitelisted SaaS traffic to the internet directly, avoiding latency issues.

The ITSP client also leverages ThousandEyes because they want to proactively monitor application traffic, identify network issues in real-time, and take steps to pre-empt and prevent outages – all helping them deliver better application experiences to users across the organization. This is especially important in the hybrid world where each user is a ‘branch-of-one’.

If you think of the continuum of solutions that the client has chosen, it’s clear that security is a prime focus for the organization. However, the pace at which they’ve delivered these solutions has been remarkable; to the client’s credit, their conviction, persistence, and clarity about their future state allowed them to see the big picture and make some important decisions early on in the journey.

Working with Cisco for a variety of solutions, for example, helped stitch together their security interfaces in way allowed for better visibility and observability across their network, applications, and IT infrastructure. It also made it possible to use policies to automate each user’s journey, every time they logged in, irrespective of where, when or using which device. As a result, administrators can focus on improving the digital fabric of the business instead of spending their time on routine, repetitive, and low-value maintenance tasks.

Today, the ITSP is proud of the IT stature it has established for itself. The organization acknowledges that moving to the cloud is a journey not a destination, but with a plethora of security and network solutions to support it, the ITSP client has eliminated its hardware footprint, has become ‘cloud confident’, and is ready for hybrid work.