• United States
John Edwards
Contributing writer

How network pros can fight being squeezed out of cloud decisions

Mar 14, 20237 mins
CareersCloud ComputingNetworking

Guaranteeing a role in planning multicloud networks requires networking teams to acquire cloud skills, embrace NetOps, and focus more on their organizations’ business goals.

Credit: Golden Dayz/Shutterstock

There’s a rumbling in the cloud as network professionals increasingly seek to reclaim what they believe is their rightful place in the enterprise management hierarchy.

Network knowledge is now widespread within many other IT disciplines. “This means it’s now sometimes easy for other teams to assume that they know all they need to know about networking, so they don’t need to bother the network team,” observes Josh Stephens, CTO of multi-cloud network automation provider BackBox.

Network pros have unique perspectives.

When it comes to multicloud decision-making, IT, cloud, cybersecurity, and network professionals all bring different perspectives and talents to the table. “IT teams have a deep understanding of the organization’s overall technology, while cloud teams have expertise in cloud-based technology solutions, and cybersecurity teams have a thorough understanding of [cloud] security risks,” says Dan Dulac, vice president of solutions strategy at network infrastructure provider Extreme Networks. Combining the insights of these experts, along with network professionals, is the best way for organizations to make informed decisions about their multicloud strategy, he says.

Leaving network professionals out of cloud decisions is not necessarily an act of malice or spite by IT or enterprise organizations, says Bernie Hoecker, lead partner of enterprise cloud transformation with global technology research and advisory firm ISG. Cloud and network teams are not naturally coupled, he says. “These teams use different tools and processes, and usually report to different organizations.” All of these parties have their own ecosystems with different partners and objectives, Hoecker adds.

Another factor may be that network technology has advanced to the point where many enterprise leaders now take it for granted. “The system is down? Reboot the box!” is an increasingly common reaction to any network outage. This simplistic attitude creates a “false sense that the network has advanced to a point where new clouds and technologies can be ‘automagically’ added without risking performance,” Stephens says.

Multicloud networks need network expertise.

As cloud and IT professionals begin managing network hardware, it can be tempting for organizations to overlook the critical role that network experts play in ensuring the success of a multicloud infrastructure. “Far from becoming redundant, network professionals are uniquely equipped to tackle the complex and essential responsibilities that come with a multi-cloud environment,” says Robert Orshaw, managing director, global leader for cloud operate, with Deloitte Consulting.

Enterprise leaders typically focus on operational network tasks while overlooking the less obvious responsibilities delegated to network pros, such as network design, routing, traffic flow management, and high-availability and disaster-recovery planning. “As multicloud strategies become increasingly prevalent, the skills and expertise of network professionals become even more valuable,” Orshaw says. “Organizations would be wise to remember that the network professional’s role is vital to the success of a multicloud infrastructure, and that they should be fully integrated into the decision-making process.”

Network principles remain the same; what’s changed is how those principles are applied, says Davis McCarthy, principal security researcher at multicloud network security platform provider Valtix. “Network professionals aren’t being replaced; the role is just shifting to require experience in cloud network architecture.”

Leaving network pros out risks failure.

There are real consequences to reducing the voice network pros have in designing and implementing multicloud networks, Dulac warns. “When network professionals aren’t involved in decisions, the result may be a multcloud implementation that doesn’t adequately meet organizational requirements and is not optimized for evolving needs,” he says.

This can also be a blind spot for C-level leaders who may look at the network as a legacy tool. To help demonstrate their relevance, network leaders should look to expand their knowledge, Hoecker advises. “Network professionals need to update their skills to stay current on cloud architectures and functionality,” he says. “A robust modern network will bring security and stability to the cloud estate.”

As networking technology drifts away from fixed assets such as routers and switches toward software-defined networks that can autoscale and self-heal, network pros must also evolve. “In that sense, there’s a critical role to play in the education [of network pros] in which knowledge and skills are important, but also the shift to a cloud-native mindset when it comes to networking,” says Cenk Ozdemir, cloud and digital lead at professional services firm PwC.

Network, IT, and cloud pros need to partner.

Hoecker says network leaders can bolster their position by establishing partnerships and governance/management models with IT and cloud colleagues, which would benefit all parties as well as  the multicloud environment they create. “In many regards, a cloud estate is only as good as the network that it resides on,” he says.

To ensure continued relevance, Dulac advises network teams to focus on developing expertise in critical network technologies such as security and mobility, as well as maximizing their skills in collecting real-time data and insights. Doing so will help reaffirm the importance of network pros in the multicloud decision-making process and help organizations achieve their technology goals, he says.

Ozdemir believes that network teams should work toward real integration with their cloud counterparts. “Multicloud drives significant complexity,” he says. “Operations need to be figured out up front.” Ozdemir feels that the network team should lead, or at least be heavily involved in, multi-cloud planning and operation. “The network touches and sees everything and as such plays an important role and should be engaged upfront,” he says.

Network pros need participate more in leadership activities, Stephens says. “This is hard to do when you’re hands-on at a keyboard managing a network,” he admits, noting that the answer lies in more automation. “That doesn’t mean writing more scripts,” Stephens warns, “because that’s still work, even if it’s different, and won’t free-up time for leadership activities.”

NetOps can help create that time. When properly deployed and managed, NetOps and its inherent automation, orchestration, and infrastructure observability drives faster application delivery as well as reliable, secure performance across the enterprise. Given the rate and pace of technology improvements, NetOps is critical to the network modernization needed to support multicloud environments, Hoecker says.

NetOps can provide the tools and processes needed to effectively manage multicloud networks. “The performance of any cloud application is highly dependent on secure network transport across the LAN and WAN,” Dulac says.

When application experience is perceived as slow, it’s common to blame the network. “By automating repetitive tasks, like moves, adds, or changes, and providing real-time visibility into wired and wireless network performance and application experience, NetOps can help network professionals demonstrate the value they bring to the organization,” Dulac says.

Security, network virtualization, and automation are essential skills.

NetOps training can also help network pros stay current with developments in cloud networking and security, equipping them with the knowledge needed to effectively participate in and contribute to multicloud discussions and decision-making, Dulac says.

Network pros should develop essential cloud skills, including network virtualization, multicloud connectivity, and automation, Dulac says. “A successful [cloud] influencer brings three key traits to the table: domain expertise, effective communication, and trust.”

Education, focusing on WANs, is another key to understanding evolving cloud strategies, Hoecker says. “Network professionals must also be able to converse and negotiate with telco and CSP providers to bring value to the cloud strategy,” he adds.

Network pros should also learn native cloud-networking as implemented by major cloud providers. “This will equip them with a working knowledge of native networking constructs on the largest cloud platforms to fully understand all cloud networking components, service provider capabilities, and multicloud architectural design patterns, and how to apply them to an organization,” Ozdemir says.

Network leaders also need to polish their management and business skills. “It’s an unfortunate bias in the corporate world, but network pros need to be willing to be at the keyboard less so they can be at the whiteboard more,” Stephens says. “Instead of configuring machines or writing scripts, they need to be deep into the business, helping teams understand how better networks make better business outcomes.”

Looking forward

Despite the challenges, network pros will continue playing an important role in the ongoing cloud journey, thanks to their expertise in network architecture, performance, and topologies. “Their role as critical team members will continue to evolve, mitigating complex cloud environments,” Ozdemir predicts. “To be successful in this capacity, network professionals need to be as deep in cloud networking features and offerings as they have been in traditional networking solutions.”