Network Engineering and Operations in the Multi-Cloud Era

by Shamus McGillicuddy, Research Director, Network Management

It is no secret that the public cloud is a technological hurricane that is blowing its way through the enterprise networking world with tremendous force. Enterprises are transforming global architecture to take advantage of the elasticity, scalability, and cost advantages of cloud-based infrastructure and applications. Unfortunately, traditional networks are static utilities designed for secure connectivity to applications cloistered within traditional corporate data centers. Also, the network engineers and architects who built careers out of delivering such networks often lack the tools and expertise to build and support the networks required by hybrid and multi-cloud architectures.

EMA’s research report “Network Engineering and Operations in the Multi-Cloud Era” is EMA’s first attempt to broadly examine the impact of the public cloud on enterprise network engineering and operations. It examines key topics, such as the network team’s role in in a cloud-first organization, network architecture and governance strategies, compliance management, cost management, and network monitoring and troubleshooting. The research is based on a survey of 250 enterprises and focal interviews with five senior IT professionals directly involved in evolving the network to support cloud transformation.

Cloud Network Automation is Essential, But Difficult

The importance of automation is a key finding in the research. EMA found that network teams most successful with cloud enablement are the most likely to automate cloud network engineering. For instance, 79 percent of very successful teams automate cloud routing configuration, but only 36 percent of less successful teams do so. Furthermore, 77 percent of the most successful teams automate the configuration of network security monitoring systems in the cloud, versus only 30 percent of less successful teams.

Unfortunately, network teams do not always find cloud automation tools easy to use. “Learning how to use cloud automation tools is challenging,” a data center architect with a large North American government entity told EMA. “These things are not necessarily a GUI that you can learn. You have to be a programmer to use the automation. Most of the network guys are CLI guys, and it’s still a big learning curve. It’s not easy. I have a degree in programming from college and it’s still difficult for me.”

“We are not 100 percent automated today,” a senior network architect with a large North American government agency told EMA. “The networking team does not have the tools in place to monitor and manage all over the cloud. There are not many in-house tools available. The biggest gap is a unified tool that would seamlessly integrate your cloud infrastructure automation with on-premises infrastructure automation.”

Evolving the Network Management Toolset

As enterprises adopt hybrid and multi-cloud architectures, essential applications and services migrate into public cloud environments where network teams have, at best, administrative access to infrastructure. Network managers need to update their management and monitoring tools to ensure policy control and neatwork performance. Naturally, many network managers will ask their incumbent tool vendors to add support for cloud network management. Vendors are uneven in their ability to fulfil those needs. Seventy-four percent of enterprises revealed to EMA that at least one of their incumbent network management and monitoring tools had failed to address their cloud requirements. And 39 percent said this failure had forced them to find solutions elsewhere. Thirty-five percent were able to remedy the situation by customizing the tools themselves.

Cost and complexity were the leading causes of incumbent tool failure. Forty-four percent said their vendors had required them to by new software licenses or modules to get cloud support. And another 44 percent said the cloud support offered by their incumbent vendors was too difficult to implement or use.

“Due to complacency and limitations of the software itself, we had to get rid [of a tool],” an IT executive at a midsized North American distributor of heavy manufactured products told EMA. “It’s not worth the time and investment. We didn’t want to spend more money on a new version that was just a redux of an older version. I didn’t see any real progress in the product.”

Consequently, EMA found that 84 percent of enterprises have increased the size of their network management toolset to address cloud requirements. This tool expansion must be done carefully, with special attention paid to establishment of best practices and processes that span incumbent tools and new ones. One major reason for this careful implementation is security. Forty percent of enterprises said the cloud-driven expansion of their network management toolkits had increased security risk. More than a quarter complained that larger toolsets were too expensive, and another quarter complained of skills gaps, as network pros were forced to learn new tools.

Network Teams Must Manage Cloud Costs

Speaking of costs, 99 percent of enterprises say that the network team is responsible for monitoring and managing cloud networking costs. Additionally, 88 percent of enterprises say it is either important or very important for the networking team to monitor these costs. This monitoring allows network teams to prevent unplanned charges (64 percent), improve budget planning (61 percent) and allocate cloud networking costs to parts of the business (59 percent).

Data is the foundation of cost networking cost monitoring. Sixty-five percent are monitoring cloud provider billing data. Sixty-one percent use network infrastructure metrics in their analysis of cloud networking costs, and 55 percent are applying network traffic data to this analysis.

Countless Other Insights in the Full Report

The insights described here are just a sample of the data and analysis available in the full report, coming soon. Register for my Network Engineering and Operations in a Multi-Cloud World webinar to get highlights from this new research!