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Why Cloud-first Networking is the Future

Overcome the hype to realize tangible benefits

Woman using mobile device

By now you’re likely familiar with cloud networking and may have even migrated parts of your network infrastructure to the cloud. But it’s time to move beyond experimentation and come to grips with the reality that your enterprise will need to move to cloud-first networking in order to thrive in an increasingly complex world where competition sometimes happens along thin margins. 

You may feel confident that your product is better than your competition and your customers know it. But competing at the margins means it’s not enough to only have the best product. Even the most recognized national brand of coffee shop can lose customers at the local level because the café across the street has better Wi-Fi (and an app to order in advance to boot!).

We’re all familiar with hype cycles in the tech space. Markets go crazy for the latest gadget or solution, expectations become inflated, early adopters become disappointed, and then the pragmatists swoop in to realize tangible benefits.

To those level-headed business and IT leaders who hesitated to jump on the bandwagon—don’t worry—your secure ride up the slope of enlightenment is boarding. Here’s what you need to know.

What do we mean by cloud-first networking?

We defined cloud networking in a previous blog post as a network where management and provisioning of network devices—as well as the storage and handling of most data—is done over third-party servers.  

But what do we mean by cloud-first networking? Simply put, when your organization is cloud-first it means that the majority of your network is cloud-based. This difference matters because many organizations have been taking a piecemeal approach to cloud networking, only migrating certain parts of their network infrastructure rather than making cloud networking the backbone of the entire enterprise.

To be clear, becoming a cloud-first enterprise is a journey where the most sensible way forward for many organizations is to start where they feel comfortable. But leaders should not lose sight of the end goal—a cloud-first network that delivers efficiency, automation, security, and intelligence at scale. 

What are the benefits of a cloud-first network?

Your legacy network and on-site data centers may be giving you warm feelings that come with the perception of control. But the reality is that your dated network is doing less favors for the enterprise than you think. Here are some of the key benefits that you may be missing out on by delaying a cloud-first strategy.

Efficiency and automation

Your IT staff likely manages geographically dispersed network devices, requiring a large distributed team or extensive travel between locations locally, regionally, or even globally. That’s costing you a lot in worker hours that could be better utilized.

With a cloud-first network, your team can manage all network devices from a single location via a cloud-based dashboard. With access to APIs, your team can build in automation so routine updates and maintenance can be done literally while they sleep.

Provisioning and setup of new locations can be done remotely via the same tools, you just need one person at the other end to plug everything in. With all that time saved, your IT professionals can focus on innovating toward better experiences for your customers and employees. 

As an aside, cloud-first networks can leverage IoT devices and automation to better regulate energy usage in data centers—directly improving bottom-line costs and helping organizations meet sustainability goals. 

Security and reliability

Your on-site network isn’t safe just because there’s a 24/7 security detail. In fact, networks built on old infrastructure have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers, and keeping all of your data at just one or two sites poses inherent risks from physical threats. An outage or breach is only a severe storm or hacker away.

Compare that to the baked-in security and reliability of a cloud network. The best cloud vendors provide redundancies and fail-over across many data centers so that an outage at one site doesn’t impact your operations. They also commit to uptime service level agreements, so if you lose access, they lose money.

When it comes to security, the best vendors protect your data through a variety of means—segregating data by user, providing granular access control, 24/7 automated intrusion protection, IP- and port-based firewalls, etc. They also meet the most stringent security and compliance standards in the world, such as PCI DSS, ISO 27001, SOC 2 Type II, and FIPS. Vendors should also never be able to see your data, only the telemetry data needed to run your network. 

The bottom line is that keeping your network secure in the cloud doesn’t have to be difficult. Similar to financial institutions, cloud vendors are held to higher standards and scrutiny due to service expectations and regulations. You leave your wealth to the experts, so why not your networks?

Intelligence

To take the money metaphor further, think about the way that financial institutions are able to leverage your money to grow your wealth. In the same way, cloud vendors provide the tools and resources that enable you to get the most out of your network. Essentially, they make your network intelligent.

There are two main ways that a cloud-first network provides intelligence. First, network administrators are able to use built-in health tools that leverage machine learning (ML) to provide meaningful insights and trusted recommendations. This enables administrators to make informed changes to better optimize a network.

Second, the best cloud-networking vendors include as part of their offering a broad ecosystem of custom applications that provide additional tools, integrations, automation, configuration, monitoring, and reporting capabilities. These applications take the troves of data traversing your network and make them actionable so you can make intelligent decisions that increase revenue, performance, and productivity.

All of the above, at scale

The best cloud networks are easily scalable. The previously mentioned ease of provisioning and automation means adding new locations is a breeze, giving you the flexibility to quickly respond to market demands. That same technology makes it easy to quickly scale globally, add new capabilities, or change directions to meet customer needs. You can even combine IT and IoT to unify experiences across your operations. 

Cloud networks provide the agility needed to thrive in any business environment while also automatically responding to occasional traffic spikes, so your customers and employees can always access the online tools they need no matter where they are in the world.

Whether you’re in the business of selling shoes, making cars, loaning money, or providing healthcare, a cloud-first network provides benefits that can reduce costs and increase efficiencies across the board—giving you a better chance at achieving success. 

Cloud networking without the hype

Part of the reason many enterprises have stalled in committing to a cloud-first strategy is because they or someone they know were burned by early vendors who over-promised and under-delivered. Packaged, one-size-fits-all solutions were doomed to fail from the get-go because each enterprise has different needs and is at a different point on their cloud journey. 

The right partner is one that will join you for the long haul. They will be a trusted partner that will meet you where you are and guide you through the incremental changes toward a successful implementation. 

Read our whitepaper to learn how the Meraki platform is the first step toward your cloud-first future—without the hype.