Multi-cloud networking software (MCNS), available from industry giants like Cisco and VMware, as well as a number of startups, is designed to address the challenge of securely and efficiently connecting networks and applications across multiple public cloud environments.
Traditional approaches to network architecture and operations are unsustainable in today’s multi-cloud world, said Brian Casemore, vice president of research, data center and multi-cloud networking at IDC.
And cloud service providers have fallen short in their ability to effectively integrate multiple clouds, says Ron Howell, senior enterprise network architect at IT consulting firm Capgemini Americas. He says that every public cloud service tends to focus on its own cloud as if it’s the only one a company would ever need, which is far from the truth or reality. “This is where multi-cloud networking software adds value,” says Howell.
What is multi cloud network software?
MCNS aims to ensure consistent network governance, policies, security and visibility across multiple cloud environments from a single point of management.
“Multi-cloud networks offer automated, policy-based networks that provide connectivity and network services for distributed workloads in and across multiple clouds,” explains Casemore.
Enterprises are currently approaching multi-cloud networks in a variety of ways. Some organizations take a do-it-yourself approach, which often involves manually configuring routers and virtual routers, says Casemore. This manual configuration is sometimes assisted by scripting or open source automation tools.
“Meanwhile, organizations that have adopted a software-defined networking (SDN) platform for data centers are often looking to extend SDN policies and controls to cloud environments,” he adds.
MCNS, whether deployed as network software or as a service based on underlying software, is declaratively managed, elastically scalable on demand, highly available, and secure. “In other words, it conforms to the core attributes of cloud environments,” says Casemore.
Who Offers Multi-Cloud Networking Software?
Gartner’s Andrew Lerner has identified several vendors as active MCNS market participants, including Alkira, Aviatrix, Arista, Cisco, F5 Networks and VMWare. IDC has recognized other market participants such as Prosimo, Arrcus, Isovalent and Nethopper.io.
Vendors offer software that offers both advanced capabilities for single-cloud environments and operational consistency for multi-cloud operations. “These new cloud software products both replace native cloud software and leverage native cloud provider APIs to meet enterprise needs,” said Rod Stuhlmuller, vice president of strategic customer and analyst relations at Aviatrix.
What Are the Benefits of Multi-Cloud Networking Software?
Organizations adopt multi-cloud architectures because they allow them to distribute workloads across different cloud service providers, shared colocation facilities, and on-premises data centers by establishing common foundational baselines in the underlying services, says Joe Hielscher , Cloud Networking Software Product Manager , with Arista Networks.
Here are some of the benefits of multi-cloud networking software:
- Speed: MCNS promises to dramatically accelerate cloud deployments by eliminating the need to juggle multiple network silos with disparate tools and skills. “With the right MCNS, companies no longer need specialized cloud knowledge or need to apply error-prone manual configurations to unify their clouds,” said Amir Khan, founder and CEO of Alkira. “In this way, work that used to take months can now be completed in hours.”
- Perfomance: According to Casemore, MCNS offerings include abstractions, or low-code optimizations, designed to simplify connectivity in and across disparate clouds. The abstractions reduce the complexity, operational overhead, and associated costs of addressing and managing discrete and disconnected cloud APIs and cloud-specific network constructs. “These solutions can also help optimize network performance within and between clouds,” he notes.
- personnel costs: A consistent network and security infrastructure spanning an entire multi-cloud environment promises to free organizations from recruiting, hiring, building and retaining teams with expertise across cloud environments. “Multi-cloud networking software makes building and managing networks and security the same in any public cloud environment,” explains Stuhlmüller. “For large organizations, this benefit alone can result in millions of dollars in labor cost savings each year.”
- operational efficiency: MCNS also promises to bridge the gap that currently exists between NetOps, DevOps, and SecOps teams by providing a common controller and management framework to understand cloud application intent and then deploy it securely and seamlessly deploy across cloud and non-cloud infrastructure, said JL Valente, vice president, product management, enterprise routing and SD-WAN at Cisco. “MCNS should enable organizations to foster collaboration between DevOps and NetOps teams for operational efficiencies and also drive faster application delivery,” he notes.
Is Multi-Cloud Networking Software Right For Your Business?
Valente believes MCNS is most beneficial for organizations that have migrated or are migrating their workloads to one or more clouds, who are building their own cloud-native applications, and are looking for a consistent experience and architecture across cloud environments.
Arista’s Hielscher sees that MCNS primarily attracts large global companies. “However, many midsize companies in industries such as healthcare, state and local government, educational institutions, and federal agencies also have unique requirements for an MCNS solution,” he says. “Because smaller companies are generally free to choose a single public cloud for their applications, MCNS is not as common for them as it is for larger or more complex companies.”
Evaluating the leading vendors for features, compatibility, and ease of use is the first step for any organization considering adopting MCNS. “Leaders should select their top two or three MCNS vendors and move on to the second round, which should involve more in-depth benchmark testing,” advises Howell.
What are the adoption challenges?
Contrary to popular belief, Hielscher argues that many companies do not voluntarily choose to operate in a multi-cloud environment. In many cases, the environment is imposed on them by a merger, acquisition, or an isolated departmental decision that preceded a decision to consolidate architectures.
“This leads to organizational gaps, skill gaps and overlaps in contracts and spending,” he explains. “As with any IT strategy, the first step is to determine which goals to address and the time frame to address them.”
Potential users should be prepared to invest both time and money in evaluating and comparing MCNS products. “For example, organizations should plan for the costs associated with staffing a team of engineers to guide them through the evaluation process,” says Howell.
While virtually all large cloud-centric companies and many smaller organizations can benefit from the right MCNS, it’s important to keep an eye on the service and the bottom line. “The benefits to the business must outweigh the cost of the solution,” Howell warns.
While few observers doubt the long-term benefits of MCNS, getting the software up and running can be both costly and time-consuming. When making a purchase decision, for example, training costs must be taken into account. “The complexity of [MCNS] solution requires the company to retrain their teams to support the product,” Howell said.
Casemore warns that multi-cloud architectures typically require a major modernization of the entire IT infrastructure, including the network, “to ensure adequate end-to-end performance and security.”
Khan warns that users who take a do-it-yourself approach to MCNS and cloud networking in general need to have a deep understanding of the nuances lurking within each cloud provider. “Unfortunately, on-prem networking is very different from cloud networking, so your existing network resources are often not equipped to set up cloud or multi-cloud networking,” he notes.
Add to that the fact that hiring cloud professionals can be extraordinarily difficult in the current job market. “If you’re lucky enough to hire an AWS network expert, for example, you have to realize that they won’t be able to apply the same skills to GCP or Azure,” explains Khan. “Each of the cloud providers has different capabilities, different terminology, and different approaches.”
Additionally, organizations striving for multi-cloud often encounter a number of visibility challenges, including intermittent or partial visibility across clouds, leading to potential blind spots. “To speed up the process of troubleshooting and to help IT operations achieve a more proactive approach to availability and performance, multi-cloud networks must have end-to-end visibility and real-time observability,” says Casemore. “It also ensures that control is not sacrificed for agility.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing potential MCNS adopters is the tendency of cloud service providers to tie their customers to their lives and take the position that their native services offer the absolute best approach, and the natural tendency of business leaders to to believe them. “This puts organizations on a path that creates sub-optimal network and security architectures that lock them to a single public cloud provider,” Stuhlmüller said.
Casemore advises organizations to plan as far ahead as possible to ensure their multi-cloud networks align with and facilitate digital business outcomes “so that the network can take its place as an integral element of modern digital infrastructure “.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.