The growing adoption of cloud computing across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is driving a groundswell in demand for cloud networking services, particularly in the wake of the pandemic where organisations are relying more on cloud networking to ensure employees can securely access networks and resources from home.
In fact, the post-pandemic landscape will place an even greater emphasis on both cloud-centric networking and seamless networking across clouds, according to Brad Casemore, vice-president of research for datacentre and multi-cloud networks at IDC.
“Cloud is an undeniable force that exerts tremendous influence across all facets of networking, but this is especially true for datacentre and multi-cloud networking, which necessarily deal with providing the network infrastructure and resources that are integral to applications and workloads,” he says.
In APAC, organisations across telecommunications, government and defence, financial services and manufacturing, as well as sovereign cloud providers have been the most receptive to adopting cloud networking, according to Vish Iyer, vice-president for architectures at Cisco Asia-Pacific, Japan and China.
Citrix is also seeing the biggest adoption of cloud networking among IT and OTT (over-the-top) service providers, retailers, healthcare organisations, and in cloud projects in government and regulated markets in the region.
What is cloud networking?
In general, cloud networking refers to hosting or using someone else’s network and resources. With cloud networking, the network can be either cloud-enabled or entirely cloud-based.
“In cloud-enabled networking, the network is on-premise, but some or all resources used to manage it are in the cloud. Core network infrastructure – packet forwarding, routing, and data – remains in-house, but things like network management, monitoring, maintenance, and security services are done through the cloud,” says Parag Arora, vice-president of Citrix Asia-Pacific and Japan.
Cloud networking also includes the use of technologies such as virtual routers and virtual firewalls, as well as more advanced technologies, such as zero trust network access (ZTNA) and secure service edge (SSE), to secure workloads as they move into public cloud.
In cloud-based networking, the entire network is in the cloud. This includes network management resources and physical hardware. Cloud-based networking is used to provide connectivity between applications and resources deployed in the cloud.
The use of cloud networking is also changing the way organisations in the APAC region manage and consume networking services.
Cisco’s Iyer notes that in today’s hyperconnected, cloud-first environment, the responsibility of managing the network no longer solely lies with the network team. Instead, it requires collaboration across multiple groups in the organisation where NetOps, SecOps, CloudOps, and DevOps need to work together.
“A well-executed networking strategy holds a myriad of benefits, from simplifying application lifecycle management to reducing operating costs and time-to-market for a service rollout. Most application interactions begin at or terminate beyond an organisation’s own network, so cloud networking is becoming the new enterprise norm,” he says.
Benefits of cloud networking
The most obvious benefits of cloud networking are lower costs compared to on-premise networking as well as improved productivity as network administrators don’t have to perform hardware and software upgrades or maintain the cloud networking service.
The scalability, flexibility, reliability and ease of deployment benefits of cloud services also apply to cloud networking. Moreover, cloud networking suppliers have started to build artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities into their offerings to simplify management, detect anomalies and even fix problems that may occur.
Lee Ming Kai, APAC vice-president of systems engineering at Juniper Networks, notes that cloud-delivered, AI-enabled networking can help organisations deliver reliable, secure and high-performing services.
“In a region like APAC where many organisations are experiencing strong growth and are moving forward with post-pandemic recovery plans, cloud networking can play a vital role in addressing growing infrastructure needs and regional expansions,” he says.
Service providers, for example, can use AI and cloud-delivered network automation services to simplify day-to-day workflows, deploy services more quickly, reduce trouble tickets and accelerate time-to-service restoration. This increases productivity significantly, allowing network engineers and operators to accomplish more, which is critical for employee satisfaction and retention.
For enterprises, Lee notes that cloud network management services can assist in automating key tasks and proactively address and solve networking issues before operations are impacted.
“These services can also provide detailed insight into user, device and application behaviour, as well as network traffic, which will help maximise the value of network infrastructure and streamline day-to-day operations,” he adds.
Common types of cloud networking
The types of cloud networking services deployed by organisations are often determined by their level of IT maturity. In APAC, most organisations deploy cloud-enabled networking, but Cisco is also seeing more customers build cloud-based networking to provide connectivity between resources, applications and the datacentre via a cloud backbone.
Iyer notes that businesses with a presence in APAC are also likely to leverage a public cloud’s local cache to enhance rich media delivery.
However, they need to comply with their respective country’s data sovereignty requirements, including the need for sensitive data to reside within the home country. “This requires a cloud networking capability that can connect on-premises customer records to front-end services deployed in the public cloud,” he says.
To facilitate remote work, organisations will also need to provide employees with reliable and secure access to the data and applications they use every day. To that end, Citrix’s Arora notes that traditional application delivery controllers (ADCs) and load balancing are no longer sufficient for delivering apps in a hybrid and multi-cloud world.
“Technologies like SD-WAN [software-defined wide area network] can help aggregate all types of networks to deliver a consistent user experience, whether users are at a branch office or home, or on any other network,” he adds.
According to Bjarne Munch, senior principal analyst at Gartner, more organisations in the region have been adopting SD-WAN, driven partly by the need to save money and move traffic away from expensive MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) links as they start to use more cloud applications.
“Enterprises now use multiple cloud services, so they need something that is better than a router to do forwarding and achieve better control on performance – and SD-WAN can definitely assist strongly in that scenario,” he said.
With applications moving to the cloud, organisations are also more vulnerable to internet-based attacks. To address this issue, organisations are moving away from the model of “connect first and then authenticate users” towards a secure digital perimeter.
Arora says with a secure digital perimeter – one that encompasses ADCs, web application firewalls, and secure web gateway components – organisations can authenticate users before granting access based on who the user is, where they’re located, and even what device they’re on.
The hybrid cloud challenge
While a hybrid cloud environment can deliver unprecedented flexibility for organisations, it often introduces challenges such as increased complexity, decreased visibility and security risks within the network.
According to Juniper’s Lee, one of the ways organisations can bolster the resilience and security of their networks is to use a combination of virtual firewalls and virtual routers in their public and private cloud environments.
“These solutions can provide advanced security services, robust networking and automated lifecycle management to both service providers and enterprises. In terms of technology selection, it is critical that organisations look at cloud-agnostic solutions that allow them to deploy these network management, control and security functionalities across multiple public and private cloud infrastructure seamlessly,” he says.
And when building a hybrid cloud architecture across private and public cloud datacentres, Lee says organisations can tap automation so that IT teams can meet the dynamic needs of virtualised, containerised and cloud environments, while providing increased visibility into the network.
To address issues at the network level when managing various private and public cloud segments in the overall enterprise network, Cisco’s Iyer advises organisations to adopt cloud-neutral, full-stack observability offerings to manage their infrastructure and applications.
“Telemetry and machine learning are essential to identifying network anomalies and reducing mean time to identify [MTTI], effectively cutting down unplanned downtime,” he says.
Plugging the skills gap
Cloud networking is a new frontier in IT infrastructure and requires collaboration across multiple teams.
According to Iyer, the learning curves associated with operating multiple public cloud environments are a key issue for companies, noting that businesses need cloud networking services that can provide a single point of policy orchestration across hybrid environments, giving them operational consistency using the same tools and processes.
“In general, most customers have the ready capabilities to connect instances and services in the public cloud with documentation provided by their respective public cloud providers,” he says. “The challenge comes with the heavy investment of time and efforts in translating the application intent across multiple cloud targets in a consistent and timely manner and finding resources that can be provisioned across different cloud targets.”
One way to plug the skill gap is to work with a supplier that can help simplify how you deploy and manage the network, along with leveraging AI capabilities.
“Through combining the capabilities of AI and cloud networking, network operators can reduce the risk of network change errors, which are frequently the leading cause of downtime,” says Juniper’s Lee.
“Essentially, by bringing simplicity, reliability, and security to the network with AI, IT operations teams can focus on higher level tasks and users can benefit from superior experiences – all without the need to hire AI experts.”