Sometimes it\u2019s hard to see gradual changes in technology paradigms because they\u2019re gradual.\u00a0 Sometimes it helps to play \u201cJust suppose\u2026\u201d and see where it leads. So, just suppose that the cloud did what some radical thinkers say, and \u201cabsorbed the network\u201d. That\u2019s sure an exciting tag line, but is this even possible, and how might it come about?\nCompanies are already committed to a virtual form of networking for their WAN services, based on VPNs or SD-WAN, rather than building their own WANs from pipes and routers.\u00a0 That was a big step, so what could be happening to make WANs even more virtual, to the point where the cloud could subsume them?\u00a0 It would have to be a data-center change.\n\nThe largest component of enterprise network spending is the data center, and in fact enterprises have been telling me for 30 years that data-center networking sets their overall network requirements.\u00a0 The view that the cloud will absorb the network arises from the presumption that the cloud will absorb the data center.\nIn this cloud-centric vision of the future, every site would be connected to the cloud and each other using the internet, just as homes, small businesses, and smaller SD-WAN sites are already.\u00a0 There wouldn\u2019t need to be any other service like MPLS VPNs because you can get to the cloud from the internet. You\u2019d access the internet at each site using what\u2019s now described as a secure access service edge or SASE.\u00a0 You could have little SASEs for small locations, giant SASEs where there were a lot of people gathered to use their now-in-the-cloud applications. The SASE\u2019s goal would be to create what looked like a \u201ccompany network\u201d, just as SD-WAN already does, and to make all the complexity of networking as we know it invisible.\nWhile a lot of CFOs and line executives might love the idea of eliminating data centers, I\u2019ve yet to find an enterprise with a serious strategy to move everything to the cloud.\u00a0 In fact, there are more enterprises trying to figure out how to modernize legacy core applications that stay in the data center than are trying to cloudify everything.\u00a0 Security and compliance concerns, reliability\/availability, and cost management are all issues enterprise planners tell me are likely to keep their data centers rolling, maybe forever.\nEven if you believe the cloud will eat all of IT application hosting, that doesn\u2019t eliminate everything but those SASEs. An office is a bit like a home network. Where there are only a few employees, maybe up to a hundred, you can build the local connectivity using nothing more than an internet gateway with Wi-Fi and Ethernet, maybe some repeaters, and maybe a few dumb LAN switches.\u00a0 As your employee count rises, those simple dumb LAN switches spread like weeds, and the cascading of traffic that daisy-chaining them to create connectivity start to load down the switches closest to the internet gateway.\u00a0 We need a hierarchy of switches, backbone and edge, to form a true local network.\nDaisy chains are pretty easy to diagnose, but backbones are more complicated.\u00a0 We need to have some switch management, so our switches aren\u2019t dumb any longer.\u00a0 We also need a management system to manage them, which has to run on something. The cloud? Hardly, given that if our site backbone breaks, we don\u2019t have internet and so we don\u2019t have access to the cloud or, in fact, to any of our company\u2019s applications. We might not even be able to share information locally because the cloud is holding all our local storage, too. Even phoning between our on-site extensions might not work, if we use VoIP.\nThis probably doesn\u2019t sit well with senior management, and so let\u2019s say our company decides to put in some servers to host local storage, share print access, and do other routine things if the internet or the cloud is down.\u00a0 We add in an IP PBX to provide for on-site calling. If our site is big enough, we now have dozens of these servers scattered everywhere, with people kicking them over, spilling stuff on them, unplugging them...you get the picture. So our company gets a room somewhere and sticks all the servers in the room. The concentration quickly blows all the breakers and overwhelms the air conditioning, so we put in special facilities to power and cool everything. Servers and server networks now live in a controlled facility. Next thing you know, we\u2019ve invented (or reinvented) the data center and we\u2019re back to where we started.\n\nOK, but might the cloud eat our wide-area network devices?\u00a0 We can do switching and routing on servers, so even if the cloud couldn\u2019t absorb all of networking, couldn\u2019t we do all our in-the-data center and wide-area switching and routing using cloud servers? Not so fast.\nServers aren\u2019t designed to push terabits of data through them. The telcos and cable companies who move a lot of data know that, and while they\u2019ve been very interested in replacing proprietary switches and routers with something more open, their focus has been on white-box devices that are built around custom networking chips, not on commercial off-the-shelf servers--COTS, as they\u2019re known.\u00a0 Chances are that those data centers we just reinvented, and our employees, will be connected with either proprietary network equipment or white boxes, not servers.\nBefore we dismiss the cloud-eats-the-network theme as an urban myth, though, we have to consider another fact. While we\u2019re not moving our data-center apps to the cloud, we\u2019re moving the front-end traffic handling to the cloud. In fact, more application-modernization tasks are related to building cloud-resident GUIs these days than on actually changing legacy applications. These cloud front-ends gather user, customer, and partner traffic from the internet, and deliver a couple of pipes to the data center to pass the resulting transactions. All the aggregating of traffic and the structuring of information is connected within the cloud.\nEvery cloud provider has a private network that connects all its data centers and to its customers. These networks are getting bigger all the time. Google\u2019s network also has to carry all its web crawling, search activity, video, music, and advertising.\u00a0 Amazon\u2019s network carries a lot of video and music traffic. That front-end traffic is focused within this cloud network, down to some pipes that carry things to the data center.\nThe WAN for an enterprise like this is now ten thousand internet connections and perhaps a couple of pipes between data center and cloud. The cloud isn\u2019t eating the network; LANs are here to stay. Instead, \u201cthe network\u201d, every wide-area network, is becoming \u201cthe internet\u201d. Any business site, anywhere, has internet access if they have any data service at all, and that universality is what will eventually win.\u00a0 SD-WAN, SASE, and the cloud are simply new technologies that accelerate the shift to the internet.\nCloud-eats-data-center isn\u2019t an urban myth, it\u2019s an oversimplification. We\u2019re redefining services to include both application services (the cloud) and network services (the internet), and we\u2019re building information technology from this new model. It\u2019s going to have a major impact on every buyer, cloud provider, network operator, and vendor, and the changes it generates will keep us hopping for years. That should be enough excitement for everyone.