The cloud is the new center of gravity in the IT landscape. As traditional data centers are slowly becoming redundant, businesses expect their IT leaders to prioritize business value and improve time to market rather than just focus on cost reduction.
Today, more organizations want to take advantage of hybrid- and multi-cloud architectures to deliver their applications. As applications get increasingly distributed, it is essential to provide automated, secure, and high-performance multi-cloud networking. With multi-cloud being the next stage in the digital transformation journey, enterprises must re-evaluate their network transit strategies to ensure seamless access, centralized control, and complete visibility across Cloud Service Provider (CSP) infrastructures.
According to The Economist, global businesses spent $230 billion in 2019 on cloud services. This is projected to go up to $355 billion in 2022. A significant chunk of this expenditure goes to the leading CSPs (AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud). What’s intriguing is how enterprises use these platforms.
A case for multi-cloud networks in enterprise IT
According to Gartner, almost 81% of businesses used a combination of public and multi-cloud vendors in 2018. A Forrester survey found that 61% of North American and European IT heads prefer using two or more public cloud vendors. Multi-cloud deployment architectures let you transfer workloads from one vendor to another based on parameters such as pricing, reliability, and distance. For instance, you could run applications using Digital Ocean with backups on AWS for higher performance. You could also use multiple CSPs for customers in different regions — Google Cloud for North American customers and Microsoft Azure for the European operations.
Such architectures let you choose the right cloud solutions for each use case. This is beneficial for large enterprises with several applications spanning different geographies.
An important reason why enterprises prefer multi-cloud approach is to avoid vendor lock-ins by putting all their eggs in one basket. All CSPs, including hyperscalers such as AWS and Microsoft Azure, suffer outages. A smart and risk-averse approach is to distribute the computing workloads across multiple cloud environments.
Multi-cloud approaches enable global expansion by leveraging the CSP footprint and allowing best-in-class IAAS services across different CSPs. With a carefully crafted multi-cloud strategy, the enterprises can take advantage of the best-in-breed cloud solutions, optimize costs, increase flexibility, and minimize risks of mission-critical apps becoming unavailable. This brings resilience in their IT landscape.
Factors that define multi-cloud networks
- Network transit
Almost all CSPs offer standard storage and computing resources. What differentiates them is their capability to facilitate inter-cloud network transit architecture — arguably the most critical element of a multi-cloud network.
Workloads attached to multiple transit networks must communicate with each other natively, and the right architecture ensures automatic, vendor-agnostic interoperability within such networks.
- Reference network architecture
The multi-cloud approach runs on a simple premise — a unified platform or a ‘cloud of clouds’ that manages connections between multiple CSPs, facilitating a common layer for maintenance, monitoring, security, abstraction, governance, and data management.
However, building such a cloud services architecture with end-to-end visibility is easier said than done. As CSPs mostly focus on applications, the lion’s share of designing, building, and maintaining a multi-cloud network architecture that enables healthy deployments falls on the shoulders of network architects.
- Visibility and control
While it is tempting to follow the exact analogy of using several tools and technologies controlling on-premise devices, it is unviable for a multi-cloud environment. Cloud architects and engineers build countless integrations and orchestrate numerous interoperability workflows thus complicating an already complex network infrastructure.
It is vital to have visibility into the cloud operations in real time and know the state of routing, connectivity, packets, or network maps. However, reliance on traditional tools and outdated practices will be tedious and unrealistic, not to mention the negative impact on ROI.
While CSPs furnish native solutions for this purpose, their functionalities are limited to a general overview of workloads and network traffic movement. To get granular reports that increase visibility and control of multi-cloud environments, enterprises need automation and other approaches built on a unified platform.
- Network automation, scalability, and security
With a vision to maintain optimal functionality of domains ranging across the campus, branch, remote/ home, WAN, service provider, data center, hybrid & multi-cloud, enterprises will look for an overarching umbrella of automation powered by Artificial intelligence & Machine learning to meet the provisioning & operational needs of the integrated network architecture. As discussed earlier, the maintenance and monitoring will only increase in a multi-cloud environment. That’s why automating networks through a centralized controller is the best way to save time, effort, and operational headaches for cloud architects. Another critical aspect is understanding the scalability offerings of cloud service providers, and outlining what needs to be configured to enable flexible auto-scaling of resources.
Lastly, this new and secure digital ecosystem needs to connect to different vendors and applications across geographies. Therefore, it’s good to standardize policies on intra-network, and inter-network traffic flows with proper security, centralized control, and compliance.
The way forward
While CSPs provide the basic and native platform features to operate, creating the network intricacies is a challenge that the enterprise needs to tackle. When you think of an enterprise-grade environment with security and governance constructs, native features are not enough. Moreover, from an operational standpoint, there are no best practices due to the lack of network visibility, unified reporting, and automated troubleshooting.
As public clouds take center stage in enterprise architectures, seamlessly connecting them together should be a design requirement, not a constraint. This will certainly help enterprises make informed decisions through deep visibility and intelligence across the entire multi-cloud ecosystem.
Even though multi-cloud networks come with their fair share of integration, management, and financial headaches, the outcomes justify the efforts for global enterprises.
Managed Network Service (MNS) Providers like HCL can significantly simplify cloud services for enterprises that require efficient toggling between cloud providers. Additionally, MNS providers can also centralize governance policies across platforms. As enterprises continue expanding their IT capabilities and race to meet business demands, multi-cloud networks will soon become commonplace.