The Cloud Networking Polysemy

A very high market demand for cloud networking has encouraged a large number of networking vendors to enter this space. Each of them has been enforcing the perspective of their existing products onto a still loosely defined category, while all calling themselves “cloud networking providers.”

This creates a lot of confusion; at least it did for me. It’s a prime example of the anchoring bias, whereby I initially defaulted to the first definition of cloud networking that I came across.

In this blog, I’ll lay out all the versions of this technology that I’ve identified over the past three years to help buyers find the right solution for their business requirements instead of stumbling over semantics.

Different Approaches to Cloud Networking

Vendors can be categorized as follows:

  • Point-solution cloud networking providers: These primarily tackle multiple public cloud connectivity in a SaaS format or using only virtual networking appliances and have expanded to hybrid cloud use cases. Vendor examples include Aviatrix and Prosimo. Some vendors such as Alkira and F5 fall into this category and another at the same time, as they are also network-as-a-service (NaaS) providers. Arrcus also provides data center networking.
  • Data center networking vendors: These vendors have expanded their portfolio of data center networking products to include cloud environments, and they include Cisco, Arista, Juniper, and VMware by Broadcom.
  • NaaS providers: These vendors are focused on on-premises to cloud connectivity using private network backbones but do not define networking constructs within the public cloud. Some examples are Packetfabric, Perimeter 81 (acquired by CheckPoint), Aryaka, and Graphiant.
  • Cloud-native networking: With only one representative vendor so far, Isovalent (acquired by Cisco) developed the Cilium CNI, which is widely adopted and used as part of the container infrastructure stack in major public cloud providers.
  • Cloud networking services: Also encountered as “cloud networking solutions” in the wild, these are professional services that likely use one, two or multiple technologies from those named above to help organizations define their networks. Vendor examples include Kyndryl, Epsilontel, and Orange Business Services.

In their most basic forms, all of these takes on cloud networking can be used for the following use cases: networking inside the public cloud, networking between on-premises and public clouds, networking native to the public cloud as part of the infrastructure stack, cloud networking professional services, and networking in the data center that extends to the public cloud.

Which is the Best Approach?

Firstly, none of these approaches or definitions are wrong. Likewise, employing the same “cloud networking” term to describe multiple approaches isn’t an issue either. The problem arises when:

  • Buyers are not aware of this ambiguity. Navigating polysemantic terms or acronyms is only possible if you’re aware of them. For example, we may distinguish between SME as meaning “subject matter expert” and “small-to-medium enterprise” from context, but only if we’re familiar with both.
  • Vendors themselves are not aware of this polysemy. Or they choose to ignore it. Those with well-thought out and well-written definitions and marketing collateral will help combat rather than add to the confusion.

The market ended up in this situation because a range of different vendors were solving similar yet different customer problems, and they all used the same label when advertising their solution. While third parties can do their best to guide buyers navigating new markets, they too are subject to vendors’ messaging. That’s why I believe that the power of establishing clarity originally lies with the vendors and their technical marketing departments.

Before beginning their search, I recommend that prospective customers reference the list above that is applied across today’s vendor landscape. A vendor-based approach is much more useful because engagements with vendors whose profile and use cases don’t fit your organization’s needs will most likely be unproductive.

Next Steps

To learn more, take a look at GigaOm’s Cloud Networking Key Criteria and Radar reports. These reports provide a comprehensive overview of the market, outline the criteria you’ll want to consider in a purchase decision, and evaluate how a number of vendors perform against those decision criteria.

If you’re not yet a GigaOm subscriber, you can access the research using a free trial.