Networking Is Becoming the Center of the IT Universe Again

There is a major shift taking place in the market toward networking teams becoming the center of the universe again–just like during the internet build phase. We’re seeing a new focus on the golden era of networking take shape at ONUG. Networking teams are becoming empowered as they take on the responsibility of cloud networking and other select cloud infrastructure domains from centralized cloud platform groups; some call this group the Cloud Center of Excellence or CCoE. 

Why are CCoE platform teams giving up networking responsibility? Centralized cloud platform teams often find themselves asking networking groups for help. This happens when a business-critical app is being moved to the cloud, and the platform team realizes that it has a major gap in networking skills that is fundamentally impacting performance, availability and user application experience. Once the networking team assures connectivity, the platform team doesn’t want to touch the network, so the responsibility moves to the network team along with cloud networking (VPCs), cloud-cloud networking, part of cloud security, automation and control (infrastructure and policy as code). This is a big, really big deal, and it’s becoming systemic as to how corporate IT is organizing for the enterprise cloud era.  Some embed networking professionals in CCoE teams while others don’t. In either of these two scenarios, the role of the networking professional in the age of cloud computing has been greatly elevated. 

What this means is that networking teams are poised to take over cloud infrastructure. It also means that they need new tools, knowledge and best practices to build and run this infrastructure. Network engineering teams are expanding their domain from on-premise and backbone wide area networking to cloud networking, security, automation and policy. Their budgets are increasing too to support this expanded responsibility! This trend is a shift-right of networking responsibilities to the group that understands networking.  

Networking groups have been threatened with the loss of jobs and responsibility over the past few years as some suppliers have boasted that networking would become abstracted where network build is relegated to a dashboard of boxes to check. For sure, networking has become virtualized, and there is an increasing library of networking services which networking teams can choose to deploy. But networking requirements always increase as does traffic, but more to the point, understanding fundamental networking architecture is still more of an art than a science. In fact, it is more like a black art with limited practitioners.   

This black art is highly apparent when networking across multiple cloud providers. Cloud providers AWS, GCP, Azure, Oracle, IBM, SAP, Zoom, Salesforce, etc., approach networking differently. We are at the same point as we were in the mid 1990s when business units were deploying applications upon IBM, Apple, Digital, HP, etc.–application development environments all with their own approach to networking. It was the networking industry that rationalized networking with multi-protocol routing and bridging that consolidated multiple physical networks into one that supported all of these different networking approaches. Then TCP/IP came along, and these multiple logical networks were consolidated down to a TCP/IP network. We are at the early stages of the same trend line; that is, rationalizing cloud networking from SaaS/IaaS/PaaS and on-premises sources.  Cloud aware backbone networking is the first step in this journey.  

To be clear, the cloud providers see zero value in solving this problem. They will invest in networking features and offerings that propel their public cloud compute value proposition–as they should. Also, you never know…Google could buy Verizon and get right into the networking market and change the game. Google has a market cap twice that of Verizon.

In addition, new networking requirements are driving new technologies and services that empower a new programmable network paradigm that is cloud-delivered and on-demand elastic. Network-as-a-Service or NaaS is coming online this year, which is the second generation of SD-WAN and promises to support remote workforce, multi-cloud connectivity and much more. APIs for network visibility and programmability will no longer be “nice to have” for developers tasked with delivering the wide range of new applications leveraging millions of IoT devices, edge computing infrastructure and high-speed, low-latency machine-to-machine communications. Even mobile networks are adopting the NaaS model, with 5G providing a Network Exposure Function API that enables applications to communicate with functions in the 5G Core.

To the point, the build and operation of networking has not and will not shift left. Networking is shifting hard right under the control of networking teams and engineers.  Their plates are getting filled pretty high, and they are now on the critical path for business-critical applications to succeed in being hosted within the public cloud.

And therein lies the rub: we need more, many more, network engineers if digital transformation projects are to be successful. Networking is where the budget, design and build workflows are happening for enterprise cloud. For networking teams, they need help to successfully take on this new responsibility of overall cloud infrastructure (SaaS/IaaS/PaaS/Data Center/Backbone). There are a host of new and existing companies that have entered the market to solve parts of this problem. Companies such as Aviatrix, Alkira, Graphiant, Prosimo, NileSecure, Valtix make up some of the most promising start-ups while Cisco, Nokia, HP and Juniper make up some of the established firms. 

ONUG has always been the home of networking teams. The ONUG Board is stepping up to support the industry by empowering network engineers to be successful during this industry transformation at ONUG Conferences by exposing networking teams to education, tools and best practices through peer networking. I would love to hear your views.

Author's Bio

Nick Lippis