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Three network technologies driven by cloud-native computing

Networking technologies are being driven heavily by digitisation and cloud computing. Gartner picks three networking trends to watch

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In its Hype cycle for enterprise networking, 2019, published last July, Gartner warns that IT decision-makers will no longer be able to make incremental changes to network infrastructure to keep up with the pace of change in their organisations. The report notes that networking technologies are being driven heavily by digitisation and cloud computing. In fact, the digitisation of business means networking needs to become more agile.

While Gartner’s report covers a large number of networking technologies at various stages of maturity, a few of these are becoming more mainstream, others are ready for early adoption, while some are very much hype. In this article, we look at three technologies aiming to disrupt the cloud-native computing market.

Cloud-managed networks: early mainstream adoption phase

Cloud-managed networks (CMNs) provide a cloud-based web portal to enable centralised configuration and management of secure, remotely deployed enterprise wired and wireless connectivity.

In his analysis of the market, Gartner principal analyst Bill Menezes says CMNs are going beyond initial adopters (such as small or mid-sized enterprises) with limited IT staff who need to support wireless local area network (WLAN) access points (APs).

Functionality has expanded to include wired connectivity for management, provisioning, guest access, policy enforcement and other typical location network service applications.

“We also have begun to see WAN security appliance management as part of the cloud portfolio, and CMNs are now extending to datacentre networking. Adoption will continue increasing as an ecosystem of infrastructure vendors’ partners provides an expanded service portfolio,” says Menezes.

He points out that organisations with limited IT staff or budgetary constraints, which need to activate remote branches quickly and manage them remotely with limited availability of on-site technical staff, can benefit from CMNs. Retail store chains, coffee shops and restaurants, small hotels, waiting rooms in healthcare facilities, schools, small businesses and remote offices in general represent the majority of the current CMN installed base.

Although IT providers often propose CMNs for campus local area networks (LANs), Gartner recommends that it is less suitable for large enterprise sites with complex LAN and WLAN infrastructure. Its research found that adoption by large enterprises with more than 100 branch offices remains limited.

“Those cases require a deeper assessment of technical compatibility with pre-existing infrastructure, compliance with security policies and a more thorough ROI [return on investment] analysis,” says Menezes.

Although CMNs are often chosen initially for WLAN setups, the model can apply to other network devices. There is an increasing convergence with some SD-WAN solutions based on a cloud management platform. Gartner recommends that organisations with limited IT staff deploy cloud-managed networks for remote or distributed locations where ease of provisioning and ongoing administration are essential for networking equipment.

Before adopting CMNs on a large scale, Menezes also urges IT decision-makers to evaluate the constraints and costs this model imposes, such as an ongoing subscription, to maintain management functionality.

Service mesh adoption: adolescent stage of maturity

Gartner describes a service mesh as distributed computing middleware that optimises communications between application services. It provides proxy and/or lightweight mediation for service-to-service communications, and supports functions such as authentication, authorisation, encryption, service discovery, request routing, load balancing, self-healing recovery and service instrumentation. The analyst firm recommends adopting a service mesh when there is a requirement to deliver mini-services and microservices operations.

According to Gartner’s research, service mesh technologies are evolving rapidly, and there are multiple options available, including commercial and open source products. Gartner’s vice-president analyst, Andrew Lerner, and distinguished vice-president analyst, Anne Thomas, say the adoption of service mesh technologies is tied to the adoption of microservices and containers.

In the Hype cycle for enterprise networking, 2019 report, the pair note: “Modern applications are increasingly distributed and containerised, which is driving both interest and the adoption of service mesh technology. We’ve observed adoption primarily in larger-scale and/or technologically forward-leaning organisations or business units.

“Client interest in service mesh technology accelerated in early 2017 when Google, IBM and Lyft launched the Istio open source project to provide a service mesh framework for microservices running in Kubernetes. Istio v1.0 was released in July 2018, and numerous vendors of Kubernetes-based platforms are releasing commercial Istio-based products.”

The analysts say the reason a service mesh is needed is because traditional technologies, including load balancer/application delivery controller (ADC) and application programming interface (API) gateway technologies, are too heavy for microservice-to-microservice communications (so-called “east-west” traffic). This is the reason why early adopters of microservices architecture – such as Netflix, Twitter and Lyft – developed their own service meshes.

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Gartner’s research found that over the past 18 months, a growing number of technology providers have either joined the Istio project or started developing their own service meshes. Lerner and Thomas estimate that this year, all leading container management systems – delivered either as software or as a service – will include service mesh technology, up from less than 10% of generally available offerings when the report was published.

Lerner and Thomas say the biggest benefit today of using a service mesh is that it reduces the burden on developers, which can improve their productivity and help to deliver applications faster. Longer term, the pair believe that using a service mesh can help businesses guarantee that certain standards and policies are enforced consistently across applications. This is because service meshes provide traffic management, which yields several additional benefits within microservice environments, including availability/resiliency, dynamism/scalability, instrumentation/visibility and security.

Kubernetes networking: an emerging tech to watch

Kubernetes networking software enables pods and services within a Kubernetes cluster to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

The software may additionally enable policies, multitenancy and IP address management. Networking products handle communications both inside the Kubernetes pod via a container network interface (CNI) plug-in, and from the outside world via an ingress controller.

Gartner says Kubernetes networking is directly related to the adoption of containers, which are growing rapidly in the enterprise. Kubernetes has become the de facto container orchestration system, and networking Kubernetes requires both architectural and operational planning. Public cloud providers offer their own natively integrated CNI plug-ins and ingress controllers that integrate with their cloud platform, but customers can also deploy third-party plug-ins, notes Gartner senior director analyst Simon Richard.

For on-premise Kubernetes deployments, Richard says third-party CNI plug-in and ingress controllers are necessary. “The technology landscape associated with container networking is fragmented, with many commercial vendors and open source CNI plug-ins,” he says.

Gartner sees many possible options are now available to support Kubernetes networking. Richard notes that providers of network virtualisation and datacentre fabric have CNI plug-ins that extend their policy model to Kubernetes applications and are supported by commercial Kubernetes platforms.

“Most ADC and load-balancing solutions offer ingress controllers that extend their classical offerings,” he adds. “We anticipate the increasing use of commercially supported software plug-ins during the next three years, as Kubernetes becomes more prevalent in on-premise enterprise production workloads.”

Gartner recommends that organisations looking at Kubernetes networking enable pod-to-pod, service-to-service and service-to-external world communications. “Invest in datacentre network switching that provides turnkey, RESTful API-based integration with Kubernetes, because network provisioning is driven outside of dedicated network tooling,” says Richard.

The analyst firm urges IT decision-makers to avoid making long-term, proprietary or expensive investments in container networking products in the next 12 months, due to the nascent and rapidly evolving state of the market. “Most Kubernetes platforms support multiple Kubernetes network solutions, enabling customers to change their CNI plug-ins,” says Richard.

This article is based on Gartner’s Hype cycle for enterprise networking, 2019 report, by analysts Andrew Lerner and Danellie Young.

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