Forbes: Cloud is a huge challenge for enterprise networks; AI adds complexity

Survey data and discussions with enterprise networking professionals reveal they are still grappling with many networking issues spawned by the expansion of the cloud – the most common of which include securing connections for remote work, implementing zero-trust security strategies, and integrating myriad cloud and wide-area networks (WANs).

For example, in Futuriom’s latest survey of 196 enterprise IT and networking professionals, more than 80% said the complexity of connecting the wide variety of networks was a large challenge. At nearly 70% of responses, expertise and knowledge was the second-largest challenge (multiple responses were allowed), and cost was cited by 60%.  Please refer to survey highlights below.

Contributing to that complexity is the ephemeral nature of both cloud connectivity and hybrid work. Workers are now moving around more than ever, and cloud services can change and scale nearly every day (or minute).

Survey Highlights:

  • Survey respondents indicate strong demand for SD-WAN and SASE managed services. Our survey data and discussions with end users indicate that SD-WAN/SASE technology helps professionals with network and security challenges, including the growing complexity created by distributed applications, cloud connectivity, and sprawling security risks.
  • Managing network complexity is the largest challenge driving managed services demand. When asked about the largest challenges in managing WANs, 85% of respondents identified complexity, followed by expertise and knowledge (68%). Rounding out the responses were cost (60%) and time (47%). (Multiple responses were allowed.)
  • Hybrid work and the need for zero-trust network access (ZTNA) are key drivers of SD-WAN/SASE technology. In the survey, 98% of respondents said that hybrid work has increased demand for SASE and ZTNA. When we asked respondents if ZTNA is a crucial component of SASE and SD-WAN offerings, 92% said yes.
  • Hybrid (cloud/edge deployment) and single-pass architectures will be important components of SASE/SD-WAN services going forward. When respondents were asked if they wanted a hybrid solution that can accommodate networking and security both on premises and using cloud points of presence (PoPs), 98% said yes. In addition, 94% of respondents said they prefer a single-pass architecture.
  • There will continue to be a diversity of SD-WAN/SASE deployment models. The two most popular models for deployment are best-of-breed combination (34%) and single-vendor (23%), but survey results show a wide diversity of deployment models.

AI increases complexity as enterprises need to figure out how to store, connect, and move their data in hybrid clouds that will leverage AI.

This complexity, along with the rapid shift to hybrid work spurred by COVID, has triggered a wave of innovation in networking – perhaps more innovation than we have seen in decades. Startups are drawing large funding rounds. Best-of-breed established networking players such as Arista Networks, Extreme Networks, Juniper Networks, and HPE are building new networking and security products and chipping away at the market share of market leader Cisco. Cisco is responding in kind. Sources tell me they think Cisco’s acquisition of Valtix may be the most interesting in years.

All of this sets the stage for the most dynamic networking environment I’ve seen in decades. And it’s only going to get more interesting, as the AI and hybrid work wave makes networking more crucial.

The melding of security and networking remains hot. In the software-defined networking (SD-WAN) and Secure Access Service Edge market, potential Initial Public Offering (IPO) companies such as Aryaka Networks, Cato Networks, and Versa Networks are building our product suites to help secure remote workers and cloud connectivity. These companies will also help enterprises connect to cloud on-ramps and consolidate security functions with a SASE approach. Versa last October tanked up with $120 in funding in what it called a “pre-IPO round.”

Many of the cloud networking startups that are included in the Futuriom 50 list of promising cloud innovators are using this chaotic moment to shore up strategies, raise money — or both.

For example, just this week, cloud-native networking start-up Arrcus announced that Hitachi Ventures would invest additional capital, raising its Series D to $65 million before it closes. Arrcus says its Arrcus Connected Edge (ACE) platform will be more economical for cloud providers and service providers deploying services such as 5G and AI. It claims it is growing revenue 100% year-over-year.

Other cloud networking startups are also going after AI. DriveNets recently announced that its Network Cloud-AI solution, which uses cloud-based Ethernet-based networking to boost the performance of AI clouds, is in trials with major hyperscalers.

Cost optimization, one of the strongest themes of the year in cloud technology, is another focus for cloud networking players. Cloud networking pioneer Aviatrix has beefed up security and cost-optimization features and launched a distributed firewall to help enterprises reduce the costs of cloud networking infrastructure. Prosimo last week made an interesting play to get its application-layer cloud networking suite in the hands of more users by launching a free, introductory-level version of its product called MCN Foundation.

Yes, there is a trend to all these announcements. They are focused on return on investment (ROI) and cost savings. This is the right message for the era we are in. Enterprise tech planners not only want to shift to more flexible cloud-based services, they need to do so to save money.

For example, in its new product release, Prosimo said customers can achieve a 30%-50% reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) by optimizing cloud network connectivity. With its distributed firewall, Aviatrix says network pros will save money by reducing the expense of additional firewall instances, which many enterprises must buy to support additional cloud connectivity and scaling. (But they may not want to stack firewall upon firewall into the cloud, which after all can function as a firewall itself.) DriveNets says its trials have reduced the idle time of AI clouds by as much as 30%.

Integrating all of this stuff isn’t easy either. That’s the value proposition of Itential, a plucky Georgia-based startup with a set of low-code automation tools that streamline networking for integrations in hybrid networking and cloud environments.

It’s no coincidence that the marketing messages have all shifted toward ROI, which is the mother’s milk of technology. It’s the reason we all use cloud-based software-as-a-service and iPhones instead of minicomputers and rotary dial phones. Innovation is about efficiency.

This makes me very optimistic about cloud networking – and the networking market in general. After decades of stagnation, the cloud has woken up the industry. In addition to innovation, there is also a surge in competition — which will put more efficient and affordable technology into the hands of the users.


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One thought on “Forbes: Cloud is a huge challenge for enterprise networks; AI adds complexity

  1. The three industrial revolutions in modern history were caused by transformational inventions: the steam engine, electricity, and computers. Will artificial intelligence (AI) be next?
    Jared Woodard and the Bank of America Research Investment Committee remind us that productivity booms are hard to measure, even harder to predict, and almost impossible to create. Yet many believe AI will be marginal, like most tech innovations (i.e. 3D printers & VR headsets),

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