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Multi-cloud networking trends to watch in 2023

As multi-cloud networking becomes an industry standard, enterprises increasingly seek tools to wrangle data, services and security in a sprawling network that can span countries.

As COVID-19 continues and a global recession looms, enterprises are looking for ways to construct higher-efficiency networks while limiting overhead and personnel. Analysts predict that going into 2023, companies will invest in products that save money and resources as networks drift deeper into the cloud. These multi-cloud networking trends include network as a service, connectivity for a cloud-native network function and more observability for network security.

What is multi-cloud networking?

Multi-cloud networking connects multiple public clouds or a mix of public and private clouds (hybrid clouds). Most enterprises are embracing multi-cloud networking and using at least two or three cloud providers, said Shamus McGillicuddy, vice president of network management research at Enterprise Management Associates. The cloud team, instead of the networking team, often configures networking inside the cloud -- but that will change.

"I think more networking pros will start looking at multi-cloud networking as a strategic imperative in 2023," McGillicuddy said.

This initiative could involve multiple products and services, such as network as a service (NaaS) providers, data center networking overlays that extend into the cloud, cloud networking specialists and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Enterprises also have the option of using a single-vendor strategy for networking inside the cloud.

"Either way, network teams must get more centralized control and visibility over multi-cloud networks to ensure resilient and secure services that provide a good user experience," McGillicuddy said.

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group, agrees. There's a greater need to simplify the connectivity to multiple clouds, he said. Several companies offer one tool that can learn the unique intricacies of each cloud to work with all of them. These tools save time for IT personnel who would otherwise need to become experts in each cloud rather than just learning one tool.

Companies offering a single tool for cloud connectivity include Cisco, Aviatrix, Alkira, Prosimo and F5.

Here are the details on this year's multi-cloud networking trends:

1. NaaS

NaaS is a way for enterprises to deliver network services on a subscription basis. Service providers have offered bandwidth as a service for a long time. But as budgets tighten, organizations have a harder time predicting the ebbs and flows of the network, said Derek Granath, senior director of product and technical marketing at Aruba. Given the unpredictability, more and more companies want to consume networking as a service.

"They don't want to own the Wi-Fi access points. They don't want to own the switches. They don't want to think about it," Granath said. "They just want to connect their employees, and they want it to work."

Customers prefer to pay for services on an as-needed basis rather than obtaining full-time ownership, like using a ride-sharing service rather than buying a car, Granath said. As a result, more and more network infrastructure will be consumed, deployed and managed as a service.

NaaS offerings include HPE's GreenLake for Aruba and Cisco's Cisco+, Laliberte said. Another is Nile, the NaaS startup co-founded by Cisco's former CEO John Chambers and former executive vice president Pankaj Patel. Nile, launched in 2022, has a usage-based consumption model and offers networking delivered entirely as a service.

"I think everyone's keeping their eye on them," Laliberte said.

2. Connectivity for a cloud-native network function

Building architectures for a cloud-native network function (CNF) requires a container network interface (CNI), an ingress controller and a service mesh, according to IDC analyst Brad Casemore. A CNI defines how plugins should communicate and interoperate with the container runtime. An ingress controller is a load balancer for container environments that manages communications from outside the container. A service mesh is a part of the infrastructure that delivers service-to-service communications.

"Those are all operating at the highest layers of the OSI model," Casemore said.

These products are offered by Isovalent, a company that provides cloud-native networking by harnessing eBPF technology. Its Cilium Enterprise product is an open source, scalable CNI that supports multi-cluster networking. Cilium is becoming more popular as a data plane CNI for container networking, which is a fast-growing area, he said.

Many other companies offer cloud-native networking service meshes, including HashiCorp, and F5, Casemore said.

3. Integration of network and security

Security threats are evolving as the network becomes more distributed, creating a larger attack surface. "Being able to detect anomalous activity within the network is becoming a lot more important," Laliberte said.

Modern security tools make use of the data collected by the network. Network detection and response, or NDR, technology can drill to the packet level and enable enterprises to go farther across an extended environment, he said.

This tighter integration between network and security is also emerging in secure access service edge, or SASE, due to the rise of the hybrid work model. Companies are working to solve the problem of connecting users securely and efficiently in a mesh-style network by leveraging SD-WAN to converge with security service edge, or SSE, Laliberte said.

Another contributor to the increased security capabilities in the network is the transition from network monitoring to network observability, Laliberte said. Monitoring tracks for common issues, whereas observability tracks for unusual problems.

Observability is useful in a modern networking environment, which is becoming more dynamic and transient, he said. Observability requires complete data collection to identify unexpected problems.

"You don't know what the problem is until you go find it," Laliberte said. "If you have missing data, you may never find it."

One popular observability tool is OpenTelemetry, an open source framework that helps admins understand an application's performance and health by gathering machine data using a single cloud-native platform. Another is Splunk, a software platform that indexes machine data and turns it into operational intelligence to facilitate data-driven decision management.

Mary Reines joined TechTarget Editorial in October 2022 as a news writer covering networking. Prior to TechTarget, Reines worked for five years as arts editor at the Marblehead Reporter, her hometown newspaper. She received her bachelor's in journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she served as an assistant news editor for the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian.

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