The concept of multi-cloud networking has surged in popularity as enterprises embark on cloud journeys to support digital transformation. Many enterprises have experienced issues as they've scaled their multi-cloud initiatives. They've struggled to interconnect disparate platforms, optimize costs and enable visibility across cloud environments.
While multi-cloud networking architecture is nascent, it shows potential to simplify complicated multi-cloud environments and bolster interconnectivity, control and visibility.
What is multi-cloud networking?
In a multi-cloud strategy, organizations use services from two or more public cloud providers, primarily for PaaS or IaaS offerings. Organizations might also have their own private clouds built on internal infrastructure.
Traditionally, enterprises set up individual connections for each cloud, typically creating a star network topology that connects each environment to an on-premises hub. In that design, cloud traffic must travel to and from the hub before moving to its destination, which affects performance, visibility and security.
But multi-cloud strategies have grown rapidly. According to Futuriom's 2022 "Secure Multicloud Networking Survey" report, 80% of respondents said they use PaaS or IaaS offerings from two or more public cloud providers. Similar research from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a division of TechTarget, cited a percentage of 86%, with some respondents using five to six providers for PaaS and IaaS.
Enterprises eventually realized this network design couldn't support the scale of their multi-cloud initiatives. A better strategy would provide a single platform that connected and managed disparate cloud environments and resources -- what's now called multi-cloud networking.
Multi-cloud networking interconnects different cloud environments -- providing connectivity to, within and among the cloud platforms and resources hosted in them -- and offers a single point of management for the various systems. This management unifies networking policies, visibility and security across multiple clouds, according to Gartner's 2022 "Hype Cycle for Enterprise Networking" report.
Components of multi-cloud networking architecture
Multi-cloud networking is evolving and distinguishing itself from traditional networking, which Futuriom said is ill equipped to support multi-cloud deployments. Some of the major features of multi-cloud networking are programmability, responsiveness and adaptability to any type of infrastructure.
"Our discussions with end users indicate they don't see traditional networking technologies as programmable, cloud-native solutions for connecting this diverse infrastructure, including private networks and public cloud infrastructure," the report said.
But enterprises also expect multi-cloud networking to fulfill a broad set of needs -- some more attainable than others. Most respondents in Futuriom's survey said they want their multi-cloud networking offerings to have the following capabilities:
- integrate with identity or directory services;
- integrate with security services, such as firewall, zero-trust network access, and identity prevention systems and identity detection systems;
- provide visibility and management controls;
- manage traffic to optimize cloud usage and lower networking costs; and
- recommend optimized network paths that reduce cloud provider egress costs.
Over time, certain technologies and features have emerged as foundational components that enable versatile multi-cloud networking architecture. For example, both Gartner and Futuriom emphasized the roles of APIs and a consumption model, like network as a service (NaaS).
Cloud APIs enable enterprises to connect and interact with their various cloud resources. But each cloud provider has its own proprietary API, which can complicate multi-cloud strategies.
According to Gartner, multi-cloud networking architecture should be API-first, which prioritizes API consumption -- or how different applications use the API -- and supports more seamless data sharing and visibility. Additionally, the architecture must be "cloud-fluent" so it can interact dynamically with the surrounding environment and use the cloud APIs. This creates a level of abstraction so network teams don't have to learn the inner workings of each cloud provider.
NaaS is a consumption-based cloud model where enterprises buy network services, infrastructure or management from a provider. NaaS offers flexibility for usage requirements, faster service delivery, end-to-end visibility and simpler deployment.
Futuriom expects multi-cloud networking to advance the concept of NaaS.
"It will enable organizations to tie together any type of networking resources -- public communications infrastructure, public cloud infrastructure and private data centers -- and operate them as one network," Futuriom said.
Infrastructure as code
Another technology Futuriom said will be a major factor for multi-cloud networking success is infrastructure as code (IaC). IaC uses code to provision and manage infrastructure and resources, replacing manual tasks with programmability. One benefit of integrating multi-cloud networking with IaC is the ability to code multi-cloud networking capabilities into applications as they're built.
Software overlays enable segmentation and more granular control -- features that are coveted for multi-cloud environments. Ideally, Futuriom said multi-cloud networking uses overlays to bring stronger management capabilities, along with security, segmentation and control in a single platform.
The multi-cloud networking market
ESG, Futuriom and Gartner have all cited the growth of multi-cloud networking options among startups, while also noting the delay from most legacy networking vendors.
Startups in the multi-cloud networking market include Alkira, Arrcus, Aviatrix and Prosimo. Many of the offerings currently available differ in architecture and market focus. Although the overall market is still small, Gartner noted it is growing in revenue and customers.
For example, in August 2022, Aviatrix announced it saw a three-year revenue growth of almost 900%. Aviatrix produced $62 million in annual recurring revenue at the end of the second quarter of 2022, Futuriom said, while Alkira, Arrcus and Prosimo raised $76 million, $73 million and $55 million in total funding, respectively.
Meanwhile, most incumbent networking vendors have been slower to prioritize a multi-cloud networking strategy, with the exception of F5 and VMware.
"Many traditional networking incumbents, including Arista Networks, Cisco, Nokia and Juniper Networks, are focused on other battles in enterprise, data center and hyperscale networking," Futuriom said.