What is cloud networking?

Networking has evolved for the Cloud Era. As enterprise computing transforms from data center centric architectures to cloud centric architectures (using AWS, Azure, Google and Oracle) , the underlying networking platform has evolved from a 1990s hardware centric, client-server/Internet network design to a fully software-centric cloud networking design for the cloud era. This article explains what cloud networking is, how it is different than traditional data center networking, and why forward-thinking enterprise network, security and cloud architects view cloud networking technology and operational practices as the future of enterprise networking.

Networking, as it has always been, is the communications infrastructure that allows users and applications built on distributed compute platforms to interact. Cloud networking is networking that has been specifically developed to operate in public clouds, embracing the simplicity and agility of cloud infrastructure, while delivering the operations and security enterprises require. A core part of cloud networking is intelligent cloud routing. While native cloud constructs allow network engineers to manually update route tables, this because a major challenge for dynamic, enterprise scale deployments that need to fully automated processes.  Modern cloud networking solutions offer centralized intelligence and control over routing in the cloud network, replacing manual processes and allowing multi-cloud network automation and advanced traffic engineering.

A cloud network platform leverages and controls underlying native public cloud networking constructs, while adding advanced networking, security and operational capabilities not offered by the underlying clouds to create a superset network abstraction that simplifies and enhances networking consistently within and across disparate public clouds.

How is cloud networking different than traditional data center networking?

Traditional, data center network architectures are optimized and scaled based on fixed, physical, on-premises designs, built and managed with a legacy, box-by-box operational model. These legacy network solutions reinforce a data center centric approach, desperately trying to maintain the physical data center architecture their businesses depend on, while the center of gravity is rapidly shifting to public clouds. Traditional networking is “cloud naïve”, effectively deploying a virtual version of hardware on a cloud compute platform which is completely unaware that it is even in a cloud. Traditional network architectures and operational models will prove untenable, as enterprises migrate into public clouds and develop an inevitable multi-cloud network strategy.

Conversely, cloud networking is purposely designed to be “cloud native” and fully embraces the shift to public cloud and the distributed nature of cloud-based applications. Cloud networking is built into cloud platforms, it’s on-demand, highly available, resilient, intelligent and secure. Cloud networking is specifically designed to deliver cloud simplicity, scale and elasticity through infrastructure as code automation and multi-cloud operational visibility that facilitates fast troubleshooting and resolution of network issues that can impact application availability.

Key Benefits of Cloud Networking:

  • Simple to Procure and Deploy
  • Operational Efficiency
  • Consistent Security
  • Multi-Cloud Network Readiness

Who should care about Cloud Networking?

Cloud Architects and Operations Teams

While your focus is often on applications, a well architected cloud network architecture will make your life much simpler. Be wary of data center architecture extensions positioned as cloud networking and understand that there are networking limitations and challenges Cloud providers will avoid bringing up and which are not obvious in small or single cloud designs.

Network Architects, Engineers and Operations Teams

A DIY approach can work, but it’s likely to be difficult and costly to build, maintain, and modify. Take the time to understand what a modern cloud networking platform can offer.

Security Architects, SecOps and Corporate Compliance Teams

Centralized, consistent security policies, enforcement and auditing across a single or multiple cloud network significantly reduces risk. Take the time to understand how cloud networking and security has evolved for the cloud.

DevOps Teams

Infrastructure as code automation is critical for DevOps teams to achieve the speed and agility applications teams need from their networking and security counterparts. Cloud networking offers a radical departure from traditional networking and security operational models and allows seamless integration into enterprise DevOps CI/CD pipelines.

Hear what other network architects and engineers have to say.

Myths and Misconceptions of Cloud Networking

Multi-Cloud Networking – Connecting to the Cloud versus Cloud Networking

As enterprises leverage multiple public clouds driven by customer requirements, acquisitions or simply because some business-critical applications operate better in one cloud versus the other, cloud networking is multi-cloud networking, it is important to recognize the difference between networking to clouds and cloud networking.

Many datacenter-centric technologies and services are designed to connect branch offices to datacenters or datacenters to other datacenters. Examples include SD-WAN, private connectivity providers such as Equinix and Megaport or SASE offerings such as Palo Alto Networks and Zscaler market their solutions as “multi-cloud” or cloud networking, meaning they connect to multiple clouds but stop at each cloud’s edge. True cloud networking is software-based networking, security and operational services, which operate within multiple regions of a single cloud; from on-prem datacenters, branch offices, and remote users to the cloud; and between multiple public clouds. Cloud networking delivers a consistent and repeatable network and security architecture and offers enterprise-class operational visibility in the cloud, while also supporting connections to enterprise investments in traditional data center technologies, such as SD-WAN.

Native Cloud Constructs Don’t exactly do Everything You Need

Cloud service providers will tell you that they provide everything and anything you need for networking in the cloud. Simply not true. There are significant limitations and challenges around routing, traffic engineering, operational visibility, control and multi-cloud consistency you need to be aware of. Evaluate a cloud network platform that leverages and controls native cloud networking constructs, but adds a superset of advanced services, operational visibility and control, even in a single cloud, and provides a multi-cloud network architecture allowing your team to be multi-cloud ready.

Data Center to the Cloud or Cloud to the Data Center

As the center of gravity for enterprise applications shifts from data center to the cloud, architecture and operational models must change. Traditional vendors will position extensions of data center technologies and operating models as the best approach for the cloud or a transition to the cloud. Forward thinking cloud and network architects recognize that their company’s future is heavily weighted to applications and data being in the cloud, on cloud networking, rather than in on-premises data centers, on data center networks. Expect a dramatic shift in perspective as cloud services, such as Amazon Outposts, expand from the cloud back to the data center, where needed, and bring the cloud operational models on-premises, rather than the other direction.

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