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Cloud connectivity tests the bond between enterprises, WAN providers

Collaborating on cloud connections can strengthen or strain relationships between enterprises and service providers. Service-level agreements, in particular, can be tested.

Industry analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates Inc. recently published "Network Engineering and Operations in the Multi-Cloud Era," a research report that explores how enterprise network infrastructure teams evolve to meet the challenges of public and hybrid cloud connectivity. One key area of evolution is the wide-area network, or WAN.

To support hybrid cloud architectures, the network team must provide a stable, high-performing and secure interconnection between corporate data centers and cloud providers. They also have to manage performance from the network edge to the cloud.

Managed WAN service providers and internet service providers are important partners for the successful enablement of cloud networking. The research from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) explored how the cloud is affecting enterprise relationships with network service providers.

Cloud demands collaboration with WAN providers

First, 84% of enterprise network teams have increased their collaboration with their WAN provider's operations and support teams. With application infrastructure distributed across public and private clouds, the WAN's role in the service delivery chain has become more critical. When troubleshooting a hybrid application, the IT operations team often has to pull the service provider's operations team into the incident response process.

One research participant -- a network architect at a large North American retailer -- told EMA the cloud has forced him to partner closely with his MPLS provider, particularly in regard to MPLS connectivity between his data centers and his IaaS cloud providers.

"We talk to them quite a bit," he said. "They're embedded in our office, and they are here all the time."

This surge in collaboration led to EMA's second finding. Specifically, 66% of network teams are sharing their monitoring tools with their WAN service providers. This tool-sharing can improve collaboration between enterprise network operations and the service provider.

However, this sharing is not trivial. While 19% of organizations say it is easy or extremely easy to gather and share monitoring data with their service providers, 31% say it's only somewhat easy. Another 30% describe it as difficult.

Cloud connectivity complicates WAN traffic

With more applications moving to the cloud, bandwidth demand is rising. For instance, productivity applications that once resided on client devices are now delivered as SaaS applications, which creates new sources of traffic on the WAN.

Also, the cloud encourages the digitization of manual processes. In education, SaaS-based classroom applications have digitized lectures, and those lectures are driving traffic on the WAN.

Public cloud connectivity has disrupted the IT industry, and network service providers are not immune to this disruption.

Thus, it's no surprise 63% of enterprises say the cloud has increased WAN connectivity costs. Many enterprises will mitigate these increases by supplementing managed WAN services like MPLS with cheaper internet links. But this transition requires new network architectures and new technology investments, such as software-defined WAN and network security.

Cloud connectivity also affects the WAN provider's ability to address enterprise requirements. Many business-critical applications now live in the cloud, and those applications require a certain level of service. Unfortunately, 40% of enterprises say their cloud networking requirements have directly contributed to their WAN providers violating a service-level agreement (SLA).

SLA violations usually lead to some compensation, such as service credits. In extreme cases, an enterprise might terminate its relationship with a provider. In fact, 42% of enterprises say they have terminated a relationship with a WAN provider after that provider failed to support their cloud strategy.

Not all those terminations are necessarily directly related to an SLA violation. The cloud often requires internet connectivity, so some enterprises might be replacing MPLS with broadband.

In other cases, some MPLS providers might not be able to provide direct, private connectivity to public cloud providers. In fact, many enterprises are now turning to colocation providers to enable direct connectivity to their service provider. This often leads to changes in their relationships with WAN service providers.

Public cloud connectivity has disrupted the IT industry, and network service providers are not immune to this disruption. Enterprises are radically shifting their WAN strategies to support their multi-cloud and hybrid cloud networks.

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