Hybrid Cloud Networking: Solving The Great Mismatch Mystery

· 29 November 2023 · 3 minute read

Hybrid cloud is all the rage, but most companies overlook one critical part—the networking architecture under the hood.

As AI and IoT pile on more data, legacy networks are cracking under the strain. Meanwhile, companies are interconnecting with multiple clouds out of choice or because of compliance.

At a recent CDOTrends executive luncheon seminar in Hong Kong, three solution providers talked about the challenges of legacy networks on hybrid clouds. Together, they called for companies to modernize their networking architecture before it’s too late.

The pandemic tech hangover

When COVID-19 hit, companies scrambled to shift apps and data to the cloud so remote workers could stay productive. The rush to public cloud led to some messy network integrations, but it worked well enough at the time.

"People started to look at how we can connect all these on-premises resources to the public cloud and how you connect all these people in the office to the public cloud. That's how hybrid cloud networking became important today," says Eric Choi, director for sales engineering, SASE, and edge computing at VMware.

These legacy networks are now buckling as data-hungry innovations like AI take off. It turns out that connecting clouds using old network architectures has its downsides, after all.

"And people didn't realize this until they ran into problems," adds William Tam, head of Telstra Purple Technical Consulting for North Asia at Telstra. The kludgy solutions that passed muster pre-2020 are no longer cutting it.

Shift the frame

When it comes to hybrid clouds, networking is not just one component—it is the component. A clogged pipeline slows down apps and data, exposes security holes, and pummels bottom lines.

The truth is that many hybrid clouds were built on legacy networks because the original needs were rather simple. If it ain’t broke, don't fix it was the day's mantra.

“Then the network infrastructure people started to have this mandate from [senior business leaders] to connect all these things together and ensure that people can connect to these clouds,” says Tam.

This created a messy, tangled architecture. Networking and infrastructure teams became more than a little annoyed.

So, shift the mindset, says Thomas Lee, senior product manager at Equinix. "Usually, the mindset is about being application first, with networking coming second. We need to make people more aware about setting the right foundation [for networking] so they can save tons of hassle in the future.”

Find your edge

Simply put, legacy networks were designed to route everything through centralized data centers.

Today's apps are distributed across multiple public and private clouds. New use cases like IoT and AI also need data and apps at the edge, creating an architecture unlike the traditional hub-and-spoke.

Supporting these apps requires a flexible networking layer that connects data wherever they reside, including the edge. Yet, companies often overlook this need when strategizing their cloud plans.

SD-WAN to the rescue

One fix is turning to software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). It gives IT teams direct control over their network architecture. SD-WAN also makes setting up secure connections to branches and public clouds easy.

"SD-WAN puts companies in the driver's seat for managing distributed apps and workloads," says Telstra’s Tam. It provides the agility that legacy networks now lack.

SD-WAN can also ease the creases on network administrators' foreheads by overcoming incompatibilities in network management—a significant issue when working with different clouds. Doing so removes the management blindfold that today’s network and infrastructure teams feel they have and reduces the havoc created by misconfigurations.

Tam also highlights the value of SD-WAN in putting network and infrastructure teams in control of their network layer. Direct access to the cloud, even at the remote branch level, adds business flexibility.

Secure the extended edge

As users and devices increasingly operate outside the firewall, security risks multiply. Here, too, old network models come up short.

Companies can protect data across all locations by combining SD-WAN with a secure access service edge (SASE). It delivers cloud-grade security to every edge device.

It gives users confidence and trust when accessing data and apps when they want without being called out by the security team. Whether it's an ambulance accessing medical data or a construction site connecting to HQ, SASE simplifies secure access, explains VMware's Eric Choi.

Think of SASE as secure protection that extends to every individual and device, says Telstra's Tam. Beyond security, it also allows network flexibility without compromising the security posture. Think what that means to infrastructure teams who can now extend the hybrid cloud edge to remote sites or even temporary locations, like popup retail stores.

Face it, DIY is tough

Upgrading your network to handle distributed cloud resources is daunting. The good news? You don't have to do it alone.

Managed services from the likes of Telstra provide expertise and best practices for integrating legacy networks with modern architectures. Equinix offers pre-integrated hybrid cloud solutions that leverage its interconnected data center fabric. It recommends a strategic approach called Interconnection Oriented Architecture (IOA) to enable efficient and scalable interconnection between enterprises, cloud providers, network service providers, and other ecosystem partners.

Getting hybrid cloud networking takes work, but a state-of-the-art networking layer is vital to enabling AI, managing complexity and competing in the years ahead.

So, no matter where you are in the hybrid cloud journey, the time to modernize your networking architecture is now. Else, as Tam notes, at best, you lag behind rivals and become relevant; at worst, your infrastructure breaks.

To learn about best practices for hybrid cloud computing, download your copy of the Hybrid Cloud report for more information.

This article is contributed by Winston Thomas, editor-in-chief of CDOTrends.

Related articles