6 Ways Networking Is Transforming in the Cloud Era

A full-time solutions architect, Phil serves as a consultant to a variety of enterprise, government, and healthcare organizations. He’s also a frequent writer and podcaster on emerging technology.

by Phillip Gervasi, RADIUS Contributor

As a networking professional working with enterprise customers, I both live frustrations as well as celebrate real-world victories when change happens in our part of the IT world. Here are some of my most recent observations:

1. IT Is Getting Spoiled By the Cloud

Providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure make it easy for IT operations teams to spin up new resources as fast as their businesses require. A few clicks of a mouse and a new service comes online. That same speed, agility and efficiency might be a pipe dream for enterprise IT, but with advancements in network functions virtualization, a public-cloud experience in the enterprise is now becoming a reality.

The entire tech industry rallied around increasing the efficiency of network operations—both with Day 0 deployment and ongoing management of increasingly complex infrastructures. What’s clear is that IT’s more complex than ever. And complexity is a result of the demands of modern business.

IT both created this new business paradigm and struggles to keep up with it.

  • Services must be available anytime and anywhere.
  • Applications must be able to change at the whim of the market.
  • Information must always be reachable, secure and reliable.

This is where the scale-out architecture of the software-defined data center comes into play. IT needs complete automation of all the functions of data center networking, including switching, routing, stateful firewalling and load balancing. That’s how IT will reduce OpEx and provide the on-demand elasticity the business demands.

2. The Future of Managing Complex Networks Is Software

However, automating a data center network with numerous homemade scripts can require just as much time, skill and on-going maintenance as managing the network device-by-device, at least at the outset. What network operators need instead is a polished, integrated solution to manage the entire data center with applications at the forefront, not the network devices themselves.

That’s why the future of managing complex networks is in software that abstracts the complexity of the underlying network. This allows operators to focus on what’s important to the business—the applications. As a result, network operations can be simplified, because intelligent network management software does the work of managing and monitoring the network instead of teams of network engineers.

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3. A New Level of Network Visibility Will Come from Intelligent Software

An intelligent software overlay also provides a new level of granular network visibility.

Traditional networks require an entire infrastructure of hardware taps and dedicated analytics engines to provide IT visibility into the packets flowing through the data center. This legacy approach is incredibly cumbersome, expensive and inefficient. Traditional IT literally needs a second physical network running alongside the actual network to get the visibility it wants.

Inefficiency is compounded by the many hardware devices required for advanced and necessary network functions, such as load balancing, policy enforcement and firewalling. Simply running racks of physical devices for these operations is rigid and expensive—becoming a key source of inefficiency and operational cost.

Recent advancements in network functions virtualization, or NFV, enable complex network devices to be deployed in a software form factor. This largely eliminates the need for numerous physical appliances. In the new model, workloads like firewalling are pushed down to the application itself and analytics to CPUs already in the environment. Concurrently, advancements in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are powering a new era of compute. Because of these innovations, traditional advanced network devices can be decommissioned and removed from the network forever.

4. SD-WAN Can Accelerate One-Click Deployment

Keeping in mind that reducing operational expenses is compelling, IT’s ultimate goal is achieving one-click deployment of new services. Moving to a software-based network model helps teams get there, but not without real-world IT concerns.

The reality is that most organizations utilize some sort of hybrid model—both on-premise and public cloud resources. This means there’s more to streamlining networking than virtualizing network functions.

Integrating software-defined wide area networking, or SD-WAN, into the network can be the answer to accelerating one-click deployment. It adds a software overlay to the WAN just like what’s possible in the modern data center. And although it provides the management and visibility seen in the software-defined data center, there needs to be strong integration between the two for SD-WAN to operate seamlessly.

5. SD-WAN Vendor Consolidation—It’s Coming

In the coming years, I predict we’ll see consolidation of SD-WAN vendors as networking companies integrate SD-WAN into their existing network stacks. It’s already happening with several of the largest vendors. As integrations become more polished, we should expect more tightly coupled software overlay solutions for the data center, WAN and even campus. One-click deployment will transcend data center networking and permeate all of networking.

6. Trust Might Be the Biggest Barrier of All

This is still a work in progress as vendors continue to work through latency, multi-cloud and security challenges. Some network operators may still be reluctant to hand their network keys to a single controller. There’s a trust barrier that will need to be breached among network operators who value very intimate and granular control. And although low-level, manual control is helpful for troubleshooting, ML and AI advancements are slowly but surely eliminating the need for significant human intervention.

Those of us in professional networking are now asking:

  • How will this change in network operations bleed into the campus?
  • Will our organizations need to replace our entire existing infrastructure to get to one-click deployment?

What we’re witnessing is a major shift in network operations. Getting to one-click deployment will take some time to become the new normal—even in the era of engineers regularly spinning up new services in AWS and Azure. And as public cloud functionality makes its way into the enterprise, it’s only a matter of time until trust is built and network operators realize that same incredible efficiency and visibility in their own enterprise IT.