The Nascent State of Hybrid Cloud Networking

Now that the hybrid cloud has become the focus of enterprise infrastructure development, IT executives are starting to confront the thorny issue of maintaining adequate connectivity between disparate data centers.

While many are looking at the SD-WAN as the answer to all their problems, the fact remains that networking is more than just a collection of connected endpoints, even when placed on an abstract operating level. Rather, it requires careful coordination along the entire infrastructure-application-data stack, which itself calls for new approaches to visibility, governance and a host of other factors.

According to Clayton Weise, director of cloud services for Key Information Systems, networking represents the biggest shift in hybrid cloud development for the coming year. While compute, storage and virtualization are far along on the maturity curve, network portability is still in the dark ages. Software-defined networking (SDN) is in its infancy both in the data center and on the wide area, which means today’s hybrid infrastructure largely rests on the static relationships that inhibit flexibility and lead to broad segmentation. In 2018, we should see the first iterations in the transition to SDN, but it won’t reach an inflexion point until well into the next decade.

Some enterprises are hopeful that by simply switching from the public Internet to a dedicated WAN they can realize the promise of the hybrid cloud, but this is unlikely says data center operation Next Generation Data (NGD). In a recent report, the company noted that the Internet cannot guarantee the performance levels required for an effective hybrid environment, but the cost of dedicated WANs will probably be cost-prohibitive for many organizations, particularly as they begin to connect resources at multiple cloud centers. This means that, for the time being at least, most enterprises will have to content themselves with a single “fit-for-purpose” provider of hybrid infrastructure.

At the same time, the different ways in which datacenter and cloud networks are provisioned and managed throw a wrench into the drive for a single, unified distributed architecture. Steven Mih, CEO of Aviatrix Systems, says even vRouters cannot overcome the discrepancies because of the underlying rationale of legacy and cloud infrastructure: one is designed around linear, solid and static connectivity while the other stresses agility, flexibility and speed. This means the hybrid cloud won’t fully materialize until legacy infrastructure is upgraded to provide full cloud-level functionality, with a purpose-built network that functions seamlessly across multiple platforms.

Some cloud providers and networking firms are looking to bridge these gaps, but the movement is in a very rudimentary stage. Microsoft and Cisco have begun a collaboration aimed at ironing out the issues the enterprise has with linking internal resources to the Azure cloud through the ExpressRoute system. The idea, says eWeek’s Pedro Hernandez, is to enable organizations, even those with tight security and performance requirements, to build secure, predictable and low-latency networks with which to access key applications in the cloud. This is easier said than done, however, which is why Cisco has been brought in to lend its expertise to troubleshoot connectivity issues on a case-by-case basis.

Networking has always been the trickiest aspect of any new data-related venture, so it’s no surprise that it is putting up a few hurdles for the hybrid cloud as well. But as with any worthwhile endeavor, the challenges to hybrid cloud networking will get solved, one by one. And the enterprise should be able to leverage the full weight of an integrated, virtually infinitely scalable data ecosystem to support the next wave of advanced applications and services.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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