Global legal business DWF turns to Xalient to help lay future-proof foundations for a post-COVID-19 world with secure network transformation

Underpinned by SD-WAN and a ‘Zero-Trust’ security approach


Long recognised as an industry innovator, DWF broke new ground when it became the first legal business in the world to list on the London Stock Exchange’s main market. As part of its IPO preparations and to ensure it would be able to integrate planned future acquisitions efficiently, it transformed its technology foundations, embarking on a global network transformation program with partner, Xalient.

The results of an initial consulting engagement led to the implementation of a robust solution, combining a software-defined WAN with cloud security that provided secure, flexible access to hosted and cloud-based services.

Whilst DWF recognised that this network transformation would underpin its successful future organisation, as the program moved from design to deployment, the Spring 2020 Covid-19 pandemic arrived, bringing with it urgent challenges where technology, and in particular its network, would matter to everyone in the business more than ever before.

As the person responsible for driving and delivering technology transformation, Daniel Pollick, DWF’s CIO, had a unique role in helping their global organisation cope with the overnight surge in demand for new remote services. With Xalient’s help, his team was able to keep the business fully secure and fully operational, rapidly.

Decades of innovation and growth

Since its founding some 40 years ago, DWF has led the way in changing how law firms operate. An early adopter of agile and mobile working practices, the firm has also been at the forefront of the UK legal industry’s transformation. Today DWF is a global legal business with more than 4,300 staff working out of some 33 offices in Europe, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, of whom many were already working on an agile basis pre-COVID.

Taking the decision to go public set DWF on the path to radical change throughout the business — from its corporate structure to the technology underpinning its worldwide operations. An MPLS-based corporate network had served the business well but couldn’t provide the performance and flexibility needed to take DWF’s business forward.

“To underpin the transformation of our business, we also needed to transform our networking and security strategy,” says Daniel Pollick, CIO. “We needed our organisation to be fully resilient but also flexible and adaptable – both to support our evolving shape and to anticipate changes in the business going forward”.

His key objectives were to:

  • Better support ongoing business expansion by enabling faster rollout of bandwidth to offices and staff worldwide
  • Give users everywhere secure, high-speed, reliable access to applications hosted in DWF’s UK data centres and the cloud, regardless of location
  • Ensure that DWF has a resilient, agile, global network that is fit for the future

A new approach to networking and security

To meet these objectives, Pollick and his team engaged with Xalient’s consulting team whose role it was to understand and assess their business needs and then design and develop a next-generation networking and security platform that would achieve their objectives.

“Working with Xalient is a refreshing experience: they bring together the agility and entrepreneurial approach of a specialised systems integrator with the deep technical knowledge of a much larger company,” says Pollick. “To that they add a real will to build strong relationships with their customers.”

SD-WAN for agility, visibility and control

At the heart of DWF’s transformation is a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Following a thorough review of best of breed solutions, an SD-WAN using Silver Peak technology was selected as the solution that would be able to deliver the sophisticated functionality that DWF needed to optimise internet circuits and ensure secure passage of data across the internet and out to their cloud applications. Following deployment, this is now monitored and fully managed by Xalient, meeting DWF’s requirement for secure, flexible high-bandwidth global connectivity.

“We can bring locations onto the network quickly using internet access circuits, which are faster and cheaper to procure and deploy than MPLS circuits,” says Pollick. “SD-WAN also gives our infrastructure team a networking solution that’s much easier to manage.” Another benefit of SD-WAN is that it provides insight into bandwidth usage by application and user, allowing Pollick and his teams more control over application performance.

A ‘Zero-Trust’ approach to mobile and cloud-based working

To enhance DWF’s security posture and further improve access to both hosted and cloud-based applications, Xalient consultants further proposed a cloud-based security solution that would integrate with the SD-WAN, and selected products from market-leaders Zscaler, a true cloud provider, as best fit for the company, in the certain knowledge they could handle the scale demanded by DWF.

Two complementary elements to the solution were proposed. First a cloud firewall to provide a fast user experience for access to applications and workloads in the cloud, deliver a high level of network security for cloud application traffic across the internet, and provide DWF with a modern architecture, purpose built for the cloud.

The second element would address security at the individual level, providing privileged access through a ‘zero-trust’ approach, enabling DWF employees to access applications and services, whether in the cloud or the datacentre, without requiring them to actually be on the network. This would provide a more secure, long-term alternative to VPNs, with policy-based, secure access only to the applications and systems needed to get their work done, and only for as long as they needed it.

This would protect DWF’s most important assets whilst providing ultimate employee agility, meaning they will always be fully secure from wherever they are working.

“Decoupling applications from the physical network gives users better, more secure access to DWF applications and resources,” says Pollick.

By combining the security solutions with SD-WAN, Xalient is also helping DWF deliver on its ‘cloud-first’ policy. “We’re already using Office 365 and have moved much of our intranet and other services to Microsoft Azure,” says Pollick. “The security and performance we’re getting from these new solutions have bolstered our confidence in accelerating our migration to cloud-based services.”

Covid-19 Ready

In driving this global network transformation and the move to the cloud, DWF ensured that it was well positioned to address the unforeseen and unprecedented challenges that were soon to emerge as a result of Covid-19. Overnight, DWF needed all of its people to shift to home working, and it fell to the CIO and his team to ensure this could be done safely and efficiently with employees having secure access to all the resources needed to do their work. This was achieved swiftly with Xalient’s help, providing immediate stability and business continuity.

As the roll-out of the programme gathers pace, DWF can not only continue to operate their business remotely today but will have the systems in place that will serve the company for the long-term, well prepared for the future as new workplace models emerge and new challenges arise.

Rollout in hand, plans for the future

To start benefiting from the new technology investments as quickly as possible, DWF is rolling out the solutions in stages. “The priority is to resolve issues around bandwidth or application access and performance at existing sites,” says Pollick. In addition, new sites, such as a recent acquisition in Poland, were added to the SD-WAN straightaway. Other sites are being brought on as their MPLS circuit contracts come to an end with Xalient providing a single point of contact for managed services on the old and new technology.

Ultimately, SD-WAN and the security solutions will be rolled out throughout the business, as DWF and Xalient continue to deepen their working relationship. “We anticipate Xalient becoming our network partner for the long term, helping us with day-to-day management of our network as well as its accelerated transformation,” says Pollick. “They’ve also successfully implemented a new SIEM solution for us — now we’d like to see that partnership expand into provision of further IT and network security services.”