Cisco study: Network teams look to SDN, automation to manage multicloud operations

Cisco’s hybrid cloud report details the key challenges that network operations teams face in supporting diverse enterprise workloads.

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Networking teams have been challenged to provide hybrid workers with secure access to cloud-based applications, and they’re looking for greater automation and additional visibility tools to help them manage today’s diverse enterprise workloads.

That’s among the key findings of Cisco’s new Global Hybrid Cloud Trends report, which surveyed 2,500 IT decision makers in 13 countries to discern the trends and priorities of organizations that are managing workloads across multiple private, public cloud and edge computing environments. Cisco said its report is aimed at looking at how these multicloud environments impact network operations.

“We found that as businesses adapt to the changing environment, IT priorities are shifting,” wrote Thomas Scheibe, vice president of product management for Cisco cloud networking, in the report.

“For the first time, agility and business performance have overtaken cost and network management as the key concerns for IT teams, with 42% of respondents citing a more agile development environment as their top reason for moving to multiple clouds,” Scheibe stated.

At the same time, organizations are grappling with unprecedented levels of complexity and uncertainty, which is fueling a search for simplicity and security, according to Scheibe.  

As endpoints and applications become more dispersed and distributed, network complexity multiplies. While adoption of public cloud is growing, 50% of workloads are still deployed on premise. As a result, most environments will continue to be a mix of public cloud, hosted, private cloud, edge, and on-premises environments, Cisco stated. 

That mix brings with it some challenges. When it comes to networking cloud-native deployments, the most challenging issue according to survey respondents is securing microservices traffic (cited by 34%).

The other top difficulties of deploying networks that support cloud-native environments include:

  • Self-service provisioning and change management (32%)
  • Automating network workflows (32%)
  • Visibility and control (31%)
  • Manage migrations (31%)
  • Integrating DevOps processes (29%)
  • Integrating microservices (28%)
  • APIs for network automation (28%)
  • Remote interconnect for microservices (28%)

Because complexity in these environments has become such a challenge, IT teams are looking for assistance. Orchestration, automation and visibility technologies have become some of the most-wanted tools for handling multicloud environments, according to Cisco.

Software defined networking (SDN) technology emerged as one of the top options (cited by 48%) to helps companies manage distributed workloads. Survey respondents also turned to orchestration and automation (46%), direct-to-cloud networking services (43%), full stack observability (43%), and service mesh (28%) to manage their distributed workloads.

“SDN is a means of accessing network automation and insights; it is a way to scale and secure networking environments and to simplify the process of making changes,” said Daryl Coon, product marketing manager with Cisco Networking. “At a basic level, it is moving away from a box-by-box approach to a more systemic management process. Many of the same principals and methods apply to both the campus/enterprise and multicloud environments. The added complexity comes from obtaining visibility across environments an organization doesn’t own in order to manage, automate and gain insights.”

For multicloud environments, SDN is important: Organizations need to abstract the network in order to simplify IT. SDN is foundational for capabilities such as letting automation software push the business intent/policy out and enforce it; or dynamically moving traffic to an optimal path; or proactively alerting IT when there are issues impacting users or applications, Coon said. 

“When viewed alongside the other key findings of the report – specifically the increased role of IT in delivering business agility and resiliency – it is no wonder that SDN is one of the most-wanted technologies in multicloud environments. It comes down to simplifying IT,” Coon said.

Some other interesting insights from the Cisco report include:

  • 56% of respondents say that security is the top networking challenge they face when managing distributed and hybrid workloads. The complexity of end-to-end management isn’t far behind—it’s cited by 53% of respondents.
  • CloudOps and NetOps still see a need for on-premises management for access and networking infrastructure. Roughly 65% of network operations teams currently deploy and manage their cloud access networks for providing user access to cloud resources in house. At the same time, 41% deploy and manage cloud provider connectivity in house, and 43% deploy networking for hybrid cloud/edge in house.
  • Two years from now, 38% of NetOps and CloudOps respondents expect the majority of workloads will still be deployed on premise. While this is slightly down from the 50% that currently deploy most of their workloads on premise, it’s still a substantial chunk.
  • Platforms powered by AI and machine learning can support an effective cloud operating model that automates end-to-end policy for network and cloud management across different teams. By building more intelligence into common platforms, the network can work harder and take more of the administrative load. That means IT can spend more time focusing on the business experience and outcomes.

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