Blog post

Cloud Networking Software

By Andrew Lerner | May 25, 2021 | 1 Comment

NetworkingJust PublishedCloud and Edge Infrastructure

With growing adoption SaaS and public cloud IaaS, it’s no shocker that we’re getting an increasing number of calls about cloud networking. However, the tenor of these calls is actively shifting from purely “TO” the cloud (i.e., SD-WAN), to now also include networking “IN” the cloud.  While we’ve covered this topic before (No Forklifts), client interest in cloud networking has increased dramatically (nearly 6X) in the past 12 months.

One of the reasons for this is that the native networking capabilities of public cloud providers are insufficient for some production enterprise workloads.  Similarly, the virtual routers offered by established vendors don’t often meet requirements of cloud and DevOps teams, particularly around programmability, integration, or licensing. Further, the networking features and operational approaches vary widely across public cloud providers, which creates management challenges, particularly in multicloud deployments.

This market is heavily driven and influenced by non-networking teams. Over the past 6 months, Gartner analysts have received more calls from Enterprise Architecture/Technology Innovation teams on the topic of cloud networking than from IT Infrastructure & Operations. We believe this is a new market, emerging separate and distinct from data center networking/switching and routing/SDWAN. We have a more technical definition published, but here is the quick summary:

Cloud networking software enables the design, deployment and operation of a network within multiple cloud environments. Organizations using cloud networking software can deploy it in one, or multiple, cloud environments, including public cloud(s), “private cloud(s)” and distributed cloud/edge locations. These products enable consistent networking policy, network security, governance and network visibility across multiple cloud environments via a single point of management. These products address traffic routing, secure ingress/egress, and integrate with available services These products are delivered as software, which can be self-managed and/or delivered as a service, and are accessible via APIs and UIs. They can utilize overlays and agents and/or orchestrate native cloud provider capabilities.

Note that vendors use several terms (in addition to “cloud networking”) to market their related products, including: “multicloud networking”, NaaS, overlays and network virtualization. The published research lists specific technical details (protocols, etc.). Now, for those folks going: Wait a Second, Isn’t This New “Market” Just vRouters?  Not Really…As we wrote in the research:

Most established network and L4-7 appliance vendors offer virtual versions of their products that can be installed in multiple cloud environments, including on-premises and also within public cloud environments. These virtual routers are often used by clients for basic VPN connectivity from on-premises to a public cloud environment. However, clients tell us that, when they try to extend these vRouters beyond basic VPN use cases to support broader networking requirements, they rarely meet their needs. Clients relate that they are not “cloudlike,” which is due to several factors including:

  • Lack of cloud awareness/integration — The products aren’t aware of native cloud functionality, such as services, regions or availability zones. They reside in a public cloud environment but do not dynamically interact with surrounding services.
  • Limited programmability — While there may be an API, the usability, support, documentation or functionality falls short of what cloud teams need from an automation/orchestration perspective.
  • Licensing — The products’ costs, licensing models and/or commercial terms don’t align with cloud teams’ desire for low-friction access, variable and unpredictable consumption, or self-service.
  • Limited experience — The vendors’ sales teams, channels, technical support teams and/or technical documentation lack reference customers and/or experience regarding usage in a true cloud environment.
  • There are performance limitations such as bandwidth or throughput.

There are a bunch of vendors doing interesting (and cool) things in this space including Alkira, Arista, Arrcus, Aviatrix, Cisco, Isovalent, Prosimo, Tigera, VMware as well as multiple Open source projects (Calico, Cilium). There’s a detailed set of 14 recommendations in the research, but I’ve pulled a few out here:

  • Use a short-term planning horizon by signing contracts of 1-3 years in length (or using consumption-based options), as we expect the market to be dynamic with new entrants and a high level of innovation.
  • Don’t forklift or replicate traditional data center networking strategies into the public cloud, as it will lead to integration and cost inefficiencies.
  • Prefer the native capabilities of the cloud providers when starting out, and when there is a single-provider strategy.
  • Invest in third-party cloud networking software when advanced networking features or consistency across clouds is critical.
  • Prefer vendors that offer fully documented, public, open APIs, with a track record of reverse compatibility.

Here’s a link to the full research (paywall): Market Guide for Cloud Networking Software

regards, Andrew

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1 Comment

  • Gopa says:

    Andrew, the research paper is excellent. You are indeed right, there is a LOT that needs to be done differently to connect modern distributed apps, I especially liked your “Note 8: Additional Market Driver: Distributed Composite Applications”. As you rightly predict, there will be a LOT of innovative changes in this field in near future.