Cloud networking introduces a new way to deploy and operate distributed access networks. It delivers enterprise-class network management capabilities for Wi-Fi access points, switches, and routers, via a cloud infrastructure that requires little or no capital investment in additional hardware and software platforms or in IT resources.
By now, almost any company, independent of its industry and size, uses at least one kind of IT cloud service. And that’s not surprising at all, because cloud-computing services provide huge upsides and workload shifts for companies: IT departments no longer have to purchase, deploy and maintain computing hardware and software in-house, cloud services are quick and easy to set up, they scale as needed without involvement from IT, and are automatically updated to the latest release level. In short, they vastly simplify and reduce the complexity and cost of IT service delivery – and organisations’ wired and wireless access networks can now enjoy the very same benefits.
Unlike traditional locally hosted solutions, cloud networking simplifies highly complex tasks to make them extremely simple, enabling organisations to deploy locations in minutes and operate distributed networks via a centralised console, providing unprecedented levels of centralised control and network visibility. It also allows for seamless growth without bottlenecks caused by legacy networking components such as wireless LAN controllers, and supports headquarters and remote locations alike, significantly reducing the need for local intervention and truck rolls.
With cloud networking, simplicity is the goal
As a result of its inherent advantages, cloud networking adoption is growing continuously. Following the general trend of moving IT infrastructure to the cloud, and consuming it as-a-Service instead of hosting it locally – IaaS is experiencing the fastest increase out of all cloud services, with a compound annual growth rate of 29.7% forecast through 2020.
The biggest trend in cloud networking is being driven by a need to move from complexity to simplicity. Planning for a network that should last anywhere between 4-7 years is challenging as corporate, BYOD, guest, and IoT connectivity requirements are rapidly changing. Organisations are already stretched for budget and resource, and without a crystal ball, IT departments need technologies that easily grow and adapt as needed, without worrying about change control, license surprises, or additional infrastructure that wasn’t planned for.
Ultimately IT departments are looking for solutions that take care of them, not the other way around. They want to set and forget where possible, but many solutions require ongoing maintenance and support.
Considerations when moving to the cloud
Not all clouds are created equal. Here are some of the most common pitfalls to look out for and to research while evaluating different solutions:
- Forced upgrades: As their network grows in scale, organisations may have to purchase hardware controllers periodically, and/or purchase a new network management system once their network reaches a certain size.
- Cloud wireless LAN controller masquerading as cloud management: If an access point loses its connection to the cloud, there is a risk of clients losing connectivity altogether, or of certain features becoming unavailable until the access point can connect with the cloud again.
- Different feature sets for cloud and on-premises deployment options: one or more features are only available on one deployment option, not on both. Depending on the organisation’s requirements, it may be forced into one deployment model. It may also risk that future new functionality will only be made available on one deployment model, which in turn may make interesting new features unavailable to the organisation.
- Availability: With traditional network architectures, Wi-Fi service can be interrupted if the management goes offline. With true cloud management, wireless connectivity at customer sites will continue. The same applies if access to the cloud management is deliberately suspended by the network vendor, e.g. in case of delayed payments.
- No seamless upgrade path: the vendor’s portfolio includes optional capabilities and features, such as advanced authentication or APIs, that cannot be supported by all management solutions, and will necessitate an upgrade of the underlying management platform.
- Non-universal hardware: Different networking hardware is often required for different network sizes and different management offerings – so as the organisation’s network grows, or as it is upgraded, access points, switches, and routers will have to be replaced.
For those looking to make the most of moving their network to the cloud, it is important to follow these tips. Cloud networking is a powerful solution and offers a host of advantages compared to traditional, controller-based network management systems. Due to its flexibility and seamless scalability, cloud networking is a perfect fit for organisations of all sizes and industries. The key is to ensure that the time and money invested in deploying a cloud network will stand the test of time. Crucially, organisations need to look to a solution which can scale on demand, and allow them to constantly create new competitive advantages, process efficiencies and cost savings.