Cloud Networking: A Viable Solution for the Enterprise
Date: Nov 27, 2013
Time and time again, we hear about the increasing prevalence of cloud technologies in enterprise IT, and the potential tools they can provide in the deployment and management of enterprise networks. As many in enterprise IT are aware, wireless networking has not been immune to this phenomenon. Recently, vendors have introduced technologies that allow networks to be hosted, controlled, and managed in the cloud. Having enjoyed impressive uptake, these technologies are riding a wave of momentum.
Among the most common reasons for deploying a cloud networking model are shifting expenditures from capex to opex, implementing a less physically-intensive infrastructure, having a lean IT staff, and centralizing network management. Cloud networking can be especially advantageous in what we call a “distributed enterprise” — that is, an enterprise consisting of a centralized headquarters (usually where IT resides) and a number of “branches.” Common examples include retail chains, school districts, and hospital systems.
Centralized Management & Lower Cost Model
And why does cloud networking have advantages for the distributed enterprise? One part of this is that the cloud centralizes infrastructure and management. Distributed enterprises often only have IT staff located at headquarters. If headquarters is located in Seattle, and a branch network in Miami needs network firmware upgrades, it is not realistic for a technician to travel all that way to make a minor system update. However, with cloud networking, centralized IT staff can push upgrades and changes through the management console that can lead to greater efficiencies.
Add to this the fact that branch office cloud networking hardware often can be shipped pre-configured, and is literally “plug and play.” Staff members need no networking expertise to immediately connect their locations to the network. For a cloud-managed WLAN access point, just mount to the wall/ceiling, plug in, and you’re good to go. The device will get its configuration instantly from the cloud.
Cloud technologies, which generally reduce the amount of hardware and energy usage required for an enterprise, have unsurprisingly grown in popularity after the financial crisis of 2008. Enterprises unable to get approval for large capital investments have sought to shift IT costs from capex to opex. Cloud networking achieves this, as there is a lower financial outlay for hardware. Instead, many of the costs of running the network are paid via yearly subscriptions.
The Leaner IT Era
Whether the result of budget cuts or a continuation of the status quo, many enterprises, particularly smaller and distributed enterprises, have very few employees dedicated to IT, much less networking. As mentioned, cloud networking helps small IT organizations manage their networks centrally and efficiently. With the heavy hardware concerns eliminated, on-site IT staff, at most, has to work with WLAN access points, routers, switches, and a Web-hosted management interface. Such management platforms have become intuitive enough that non-technical branch staff can perform basic management and maintenance, with subscription service plans providing support for troubleshooting and more complex maintenance.