Can the network help my cloud? Can cloud help my network?

The cloud and the network are critical components in business transformation. How you can utilize both to benefit your organization?

Can the network help my cloud? Can cloud help my network?
Credit: Thinkstock

I’m a life-long Trekkie, and one of the many great things about Star Trek is that the characters always face a big, nearly insurmountable challenge—and, of course, the heroes win in the end.

If your organization is like many I see, the new year is ushering in a renewed urgency to embrace the possibilities of digital transformation. It probably feels like a big, perhaps insurmountable, challenge. Whether your organization is leading or being pushed into digital business, the cloud and the network are critical components in this business transformation.

+ Also on Network World: More proof the cloud is winning big +

As I shared in this blog, while moving applications to the cloud can be a helpful step in evolving IT, that by itself is not digital transformation. These apps running on your private cloud or in a public cloud service are important to running your business; however, most are likely not the source of your competitive advantage. Digital transformation is about accelerating the creation of new value for your customers and, most powerfully, helping your customers and partners create value for one another. But rest assured, the cloud and the network both play an important role.

Whether cloud is being used as a tool for a new digital business or to run your business more efficiently, it’s not a secret that cloud can offer much flexibility and often a lower cost structure. In fact, a recent JP Morgan report suggests that large enterprises expect to have 40 percent or more of their workloads running in the cloud in 2020. That’s significant.

Networks for cloud

If you did a word association poll on cloud, "agility" would surely be among the top five. Cloud enables organizations to adapt and innovate faster. Unfortunately, yesterday’s infrastructure was not built with this design principle in mind. The paramount consideration was reliability, and the traditional convention (which digital leaders such as Amazon and Netflix are proving needs to be reconsidered) was that reliable systems did not change. We all know that a majority of organizations still have multi-layered change order procedures passing through multiple approvers, all intended to protect the data center and the enterprise network from change. (Yikes!)

If this situation describes your organization, you’re not alone. Gartner predicts only 30 percent of companies will have a fully modernized network by 2019. For cloud to run most effectively, our networks need to become more adept at change with new technologies such as fabrics and workflow automation.

However, adroitness is not the only transformation needed in the network for cloud. Another critical hindrance to the cloud is the basic topology of the network, both in the data center and in the WAN. Three-layered topologies were common in old data center architectures where traffic moves north-south to get between storage and compute. With cloud-based applications now in the mix, modern data center networks are evolving to two-layered topologies that enable greater efficiency in moving traffic between users, applications in the data center and the cloud.

And WAN topologies are even farther behind. Today, most enterprises run their network on a hub-and-spoke model. For example, if done the old way, someone in New York might log in to her company data center in California, but depending on the location of the application, her traffic might be rerouted back east again. Not only is the backflow of digital traffic inefficient, but it unnecessarily increases the total volume of traffic, further slowing the network and app performance. It can even render applications useless from time to time. (Ever have a VOIP call drop in the middle of a conference call?)

Fortunately, this, too, is changing. Technologies such as SD-WAN can enable direct paths to cloud services that bypass data center hubs. SD-WAN takes into account geography and can connect users directly to their nearest cloud app without backtracking. Moving to fabrics, automation and SD-WAN are three initial steps you can take today so that your cloud-based applications run better on your network.

Cloud for networks

Keep in mind, it’s a two-way street. Cloud services can help the network run better, too. Owning, updating and operating network management tools and control software can take a lot of time from your team. Today, most network admins still manage too many infrastructure elements that require per device interaction at a variety of locations. To reduce this, vendors offer management and control software to centralize functions, but this new software is yet another specialized system to learn, deploy, maintain and repair.

Cloud is an anecdote to let your team adopt the powerful tools of software networking without all the added hassle. For example, when you deploy a wireless network with multiple locations and access points, you’ll need management tools for provisioning, setting policies, monitoring and trouble-shooting. Yet, until recently, you had to choose between configuring access points one at a time or setting up an on-premises controller to automate the process.

Now, there’s a third, and possibly best choice: using cloud-managed Wi-Fi. Cloud Wi-Fi services preserve your control over the management of your network without the hassle of deploying controller software and hardware.

Think about it: No more long lead times for certifying the software for your data center. No more procuring equipment to run it on. No more testing required by your security team—or any other of the multitude of tasks involved in bringing up a new system. With cloud Wi-Fi, your team can get started right away and manage your entire network through a single web-based dashboard. Many vendors also offer a mobile app for even greater accessibility and convenience. 

What kind of gains can organizations expect by adopting wireless network management as a service? In short, faster “time to value,” more network control and visibility, higher scalability, and reduced IT costs. Provisioning and configuring hundreds or even thousands of new access points now take minutes, and you have advanced tools to keep the network running smoothly. Additionally, cloud enables you to scale your network quickly and as needed at lower costs.

What’s more, you benefit from continuous and seamless software improvements. Rather than upgrading your systems every three to five years, or dealing with intrusive software updates, cloud-enabled feature releases and platform enhancements are inconspicuously pushed out daily, weekly or monthly. Your team can focus more time on innovating for your organization rather than maintaining your network. This explains why forward-thinking companies are turning to management as a service in the cloud for their Wi-Fi and other network and infrastructure needs.

Cloud and networks. Like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, these two are truly a dynamic duo. Unleash their superpowers in your organization by leveraging all that today’s technologies have to offer. It’s a new year. It’s time for a new network.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10