How and where retailers store customer and business data have changed considerably in the past few decades. Before the dawn of the Digital Age, physical paper files were the name of the game; there was simply no other option. As computers grew smaller and more powerful, businesses shifted to digital workflows. They gained the ability to store data digitally — either locally, within the computers themselves or in server rooms, or in massive data centers that branches would have to maintain a network connection to.

Now, we have the cloud. Infinitely scalable and accessible from any device with connectivity, the cloud allows retailers and other businesses to harness the power of their data and implement new applications and digital services.

The cloud is a critical part of digital transformation, and any retailer that is not already using it must get on board to implement the offerings modern customers are looking for. These include eCommerce and curbside pickup options, which uses the cloud to connect inventory databases and payments solutions on a website; contactless payments via mobile applications based in the cloud; and free, in-store Wi-Fi, which adds convenience for customers while supporting in-store digital customer engagement strategies.

But it’s not as easy as purchasing cloud storage and migrating data to it (not that migrations are exactly simple, of course, but that’s another story). Further, while cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, the cloud does create security risks. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging.

In fact, almost all organizations IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data as it moves to and from the cloud. This should be a call to action for retailers because no brand wants to make the news for a data breach involving customers’ payments data.

SD-WAN for Payments and the Cloud

That’s where a networking technology like SD-WAN can come in. Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) simplifies the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled.

This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centers or the cloud and retail branches, which alleviates network congestion and prevents overloading. SD-WAN can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect employees and customers with applications, including cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365, and cloud-based payments apps, like Square.

And it’s not only good for cloud-based payments apps. SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — indoor and outdoor POS terminals, cash registers, ecommerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser (AFD) pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.

SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. For example, TNS’ own offering, TNS Secure SD-WAN, a managed service powered by Fortinet, offers best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and TNS’ Secure SD-WAN has this built right into it.

While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff, or have limited IT staff resources, may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions like TNS’ remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities, and even add an extra layer of security. With TNS actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ payments data, locked down.

John Tait is Global Managing Director of TNS’ Payments Market business. He is responsible for identifying and driving growth across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific regions, and is focused on meeting the unique requirements of TNS’ customers.