What AWS and cloud computing can teach us about tomorrow’s SD-WAN cloud carrier

It’s no secret that the cloud has transformed IT. Privately owned data centers have given way to Amazon AWS, and file repositories have moved to Dropbox and Box.com. Now, advanced networking services, such as firewall and SD-WAN, are moving to the cloud.   

Many companies have announced or delivered SD-WAN services. FWaaS (Firewall as a Service)  became a recognized market category last year when Gartner added it to its Hype Cycle. The FWaaS market is expected to hit $2.5 billion by 2024.   

Relying on the cloud for security (or any networking service, for that matter) requires IT professionals to assess not only the technologies but also their providers. True, IT has always evaluated the vendors behind the products. But with services, the provider also impacts the daily experience with the service.

What should IT managers be looking for in a network service provider? Simple, the same qualities that typify cloud computing providers. 

Power of the cloud   

Cloud computing ushered in an era of self-service, agile, and fast IT. Hosting existed before Amazon AWS, no doubt, but legacy hosting providers couldn’t capture the cloud opportunity. Their server-centric models built on third-party software and appliances proved to be too limited to compete with Amazon and its custom-developed, cloud-scale software. 

Whereas cloud services, like Amazon AWS, allow users to provision or retire many virtual servers through an API, hosting services required the intervention of the provider. Cloud services pool their resources and are elastic, dynamically allocating them as necessary. As such, IT professionals only pay for what’s needed. Hosting is also more static, forcing IT professionals to spend more while over-provisioning servers to accommodate growth. And hosting typically works on a single single, creating latency and loss issues for remote users whereas cloud services use a distributed infrastructure, improving performance from any region.   

The experience using a hosting service is, like any classic service, inseparable from the provider. Amazon changed all of that, creating a service that behaved  more like a product— a service we could deploy, upgrade, and manage without involving Amazon. Like any service, though, cloud computing also minimizes acquisition costs, reduces deployment complexity, and, gains economies of scale. Bringing the worlds of products and services together is more than just the sum of its parts. It helped enable incredible speed and innovation. Today, Amazon introduces several features a day whereas many product companies are happy to roll out features every few months.   

In short, it was not just a matter of what cloud providers offered, but how they served our needs that made them so unique. Companies needed a different kind of DNA powered by a different kind of infrastructure to deliver the kind of service that’s come to be known as cloud computing.   

Software and business DNA — the essential ingredients   

The same lessons hold true for the new generation of networking services. At first glance, the existing telecom companies look like the safe choice to capitalize on the opportunity for cloud networking. They obviously have the resources. And seemingly, it’s a matter of extending legacy network service offerings. After all, SD-WAN promises to change the rigid and slow networking model of the past. Clearly that’s all that’s necessary to deliver agile networking services, right?

Not exactly.   

As with cloud computing, cloud networking companies must possess a combination of the right platform and the right DNA to be successful. And on that score, IT managers have reason to question their carriers. 

Even more so than hosting providers, carriers run resource-intensive operations, reliant on coordinating third-party appliances and software into services sold at premium prices. It’s the very opposite of the custom-developed, cloud-scale software.   

Carrier intervention is the norm. Weeks (and sometimes even months) are needed to receive new MPLS circuits at a branch. Even simple changes, like updating firewall policies or adding a static route to a router, require opening trouble tickets. 

As for DNA, speed and disruption are an anathema to carriers. Their big money comes from selling legacy high-margin connectivity and managed services delivered through a bloated operation that needs to sustain itself. SD-WAN is a threat to their business model, not an opportunity, because it puts the customer in the center and focuses on making networking simpler and more affordable. Traditional carriers are hardly the right providers to introduce services that will compete and undermine their MPLS services.   

From cloud provider to cloud carrier   

Network service providers need to act more like cloud computing providers and less like the carriers of old. They need to be built for the era of the cloud, centered on the core values of self-service, agility, and speed. It is a lean operation designed to turn a profit without charging customers an “arm and a leg” for expensive services where affordable options exist.   

Software-centricity — not integration-centricity — is essential. The cloud carrier should build the platform customers need and rapidly iterate on it to evolve and adapt to new requirements. With a native-cloud architecture, cloud carriers are multitenant, elastic, and scalable by design. They put together the capabilities the customer actually needs in an integrated and cost-effective way: A global, software-defined network fabric, built-in support for cloud and mobile resources, integrated network security, Internet last-mile services, and a fully managed service.   

Much like Amazon AWS, the cloudification of network and security infrastructure will drive the same self-service, agility and speed values. These are not the values of the carriers of the past. A new class of cloud networking providers is essential to capturing this massive opportunity — and enabling IT professionals to adapt to this leaner, more dynamic business world.    

Gur Shatz, Co-Founder and CTO of Cato Networks 

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