Understanding Cloud Networking:
Key Terms, Benefits, and Challenges

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Networking is often the most overlooked aspect of computing, despite being arguably one of the most crucial processes. Networking is the process that connects devices, integrates systems across geographical locations, and ensures the safe transfer of information.

With the rise of cloud computing and the focus on resource sharing through virtual networks, for most organizations, traditional networking can no longer meet the needs for scalability, reliability, and security that cloud computing offers. Transferring the networking processes mentioned earlier to the cloud has transformed traditional networking to cloud networking.

What is cloud networking?

Cloud networking refers to the type of IT infrastructure where networking processes, resources, and capabilities are hosted in the cloud — public, private, or hybrid — and are available on-demand. Cloud networking resources include but are not limited to virtual routers, bandwidth, load balancers, switches, virtual firewalls, and network management software. At its simplest, cloud networking helps you make your application accessible via the internet and offers connectivity between applications and workloads, services, and data centers. More advanced setups use it to test and deploy new services or updates to existing ones while also protecting against malicious actors.

With cloud networking, an organization shifts its network management, control, and data connectivity from on-premises to a cloud infrastructure. By hosting users and resources in the cloud, cloud networking allows organizations to create complex networks using only the internet.

Cloud computing vs. cloud networking

Cloud computing and cloud networking are two concepts that can easily be confused. But if you look at the terms as simply computing vs. networking, it becomes easier to understand where the difference lies.

When talking about cloud networking, we refer to the type of IT infrastructure where network resources are hosted on the cloud and available on-demand. In contrast, cloud computing is a much broader term that refers to the type of computing where resources are shared by numerous users and includes all services necessary to run an application. In essence, cloud computing is the umbrella term, and part of it is cloud networking.

How does cloud networking work?

Cloud networking architectures are created using cloud-based services, and they typically come with centralized management and control. The inner workings of a cloud network, however, differ depending on the type of cloud network and whether the network is hosted on a private, public, or hybrid cloud.

Types of cloud networking

Cloud-enabled networking: The core network infrastructure that includes packet forwarding, routing, and data, remains on the organization's premises while other networking functions — for example, network management and maintenance, monitoring, and security — are hosted in the cloud. A common use case here is employing a SaaS firewall to protect on-prem networks. In this scenario, the cloud networking stack filters incoming traffic, so you only handle proper, sanitized requests on your infrastructure.

Cloud-based networking: The entire network is hosted in the cloud. In cloud-based networks, all networking processes, resources, and capabilities are in the cloud, including managing said resources and physical hardware. Cloud-based networks are the best solution for maximizing connectivity between resources and applications.

Private, public, and hybrid cloud networks

Public cloud networks: A third party administers a cloud network and provides access to a platform that includes servers, databases, applications, and storage. This network offers multi-tenancy coverage so that the systems can be accessed by numerous virtual machines simultaneously and with little or no downtime. Public cloud networks are ideal for organizations that need to handle workloads at peak capacity. It also offers a low setup cost.

Private cloud networks: The platform remains on-premises and limits access to authorized users only. A private cloud network contains the workloads within the system while the organization maintains uniform standards and procedures for all network users. Private cloud networks offer the highest security and a level of customization that is not available in public clouds, making this model necessary for organizations that deal with sensitive data and ideal for organizations with proprietary processes and data.

Hybrid cloud networks: As the name suggests, a hybrid cloud network offers the best of both worlds by providing a flexible infrastructure that connects both public and private cloud services. The biggest advantage that comes with hybrid cloud networks is the flexibility to shift workloads between private and public clouds based on the needs of the organization and individual circumstances.

What is multi-cloud networking?

Multi-cloud networking refers to the cloud networking architecture that combines and integrates multiple clouds of the same and different types. With the multi-cloud model, organizations can combine two or more public clouds, two or more private clouds, etc. Although this sounds a lot like hybrid cloud networking, the key difference is that in multi-cloud architectures, you can use multiple clouds of the same type, while in hybrid cloud networking, you combine two or more clouds of different types.

Multi-cloud networks are ideal for organizations that aim to accelerate the delivery of applications, want to avoid vendor lock-in, and improve customer experience by distributing applications to the edge, which are closer to users’ locations and physical machines.

The benefits of cloud networking

Adopting cloud networking solutions for your organization offers a lot of advantages.

Reduced costs: Instead of organizations having to maintain their own network equipment and software, they are accessing equipment, storage, and software via a cloud network. This alone reduces expenses drastically. Cloud networks also use pay-per-use billing models, so you don’t have to pay for resources that you are not using.

Increased productivity: Hardware and software upgrades, as well as configuration and maintenance, are handled by the cloud provider, which frees up a lot of time for organizations to focus on other priorities. This increase in productivity also keeps administration costs low.

Increased reliability and resilience: Resilience, high availability (HA), and reduced downtime are probably the biggest advantages of cloud networking. The process of updating cloud networking apps is managed entirely by the provider, meaning that organizations don’t have to worry about bringing their applications down for an update which can have a negative impact on mission-critical business operations.

Faster deployments: Since the network providers handle the process of configuring and installing network equipment, servers are immediately available, and resources are deployed quickly, which accelerates time-to-market.

Increased scalability: With resources readily available at any given time and without the need to build and configure networking tools, organizations can easily and quickly scale up and down depending on business needs and individual circumstances.

Increased flexibility: Cloud networking allows organizations to build their architecture to cater to every possible need and scenario by mixing and matching public and private cloud networks, either using a hybrid or a multi-cloud model. Also, by having all networking resources in the cloud, organizations have 24/7 access to data and applications.

Security: Cloud networking offers a variety of options for adding security layers to your applications, including Web Application Firewalls (WAF), encryption, authentication and authorization, as well as malware protection solutions.

The challenges of cloud networking

Vendor lock-in: This is a risk when using public, private, or hybrid networking solutions, and it can impact an organization's flexibility when the need comes to move among cloud services. Multi-cloud architectures reduce the risk of vendor lock-in but sometimes lead to their own form of vendor lock-in (multi-vendor lock-in).

Availability and downtime: The cost that comes with relying entirely on cloud providers to handle the updates and maintenance of networking tools, is that in the case something goes wrong, the solution is out of the organization’s control.

Security: As mentioned earlier, cloud networking offers several security options. However, it is in the organization’s best interest to carefully audit vendors and make sure they provide the cloud networking security services they need.

Cloud native security

Cloud native security is the practice that builds security into the software development life cycle (SDLC) to secure cloud-based applications, infrastructures, and platforms. Cloud native security involves concepts like zero trust and defense in depth (DiD) and emphasizes the need for the implementation of security on all layers of an applications, as well as continuous monitoring and remediation of vulnerabilities and other security risks.

How can a unified cloud networking solution help?

Cloud networking is complex and comes with many pieces that an organization needs to put together. A unified cloud native networking solution that brings API management, ingress control, and Service Mesh can ease cloud networking complexity for developers and operations teams across the organization.

Enterprise-grade application proxies, like Traefik Enterprise, are highly compatible with providers, hosts, and cloud native technologies. They help you avoid the vendor lock-in of using the built-in solution for API management, ingress control, or Service Mesh of a given vendor. They can also come with an impressive set of features for:

  • Traffic management
  • Availability and scalability
  • Security
  • Observability
  • Cloud native migration

Learn more about Traefik Enterprise here.

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References and further reading

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