A guide to networking for a hybrid infrastructure
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We’re living in a hybrid everything world, where businesses now run applications both on-premises and in the cloud. The most successful organizations are embracing this infrastructure that promotes agility, flexibility, and most importantly, opportunities for growth.

Not everyone, however, is ready to step up to the cloud.

In many instances, old school network engineers are hesitant to adopt this new tactic – not because they don’t recognize the inherent value, but because it’s unfamiliar. And change can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be.

Organizations with typical on-premises networks need to migrate certain workloads to the cloud to satisfy new business requirements, and traditional network administrators must learn how to provide that connectivity.

Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a crash course on how to modernize your network for a hybrid infrastructure.

How a hybrid infrastructure is connected

Let’s start with the most pressing – and obvious – question: How do you connect to the cloud?

There are three ways a hybrid infrastructure is connected:

1. Virtual private network (VPN)

When first connecting to the cloud, organizations typically start with a VPN.

VPNs are encrypted tunnels that are manually established over the internet. They are the cheapest way to connect to the cloud. But there are limitations to a VPN – particularly as it pertains to speed. But that’s not all.

Congestion is another common concern with VPNs, as traffic that’s destined for an organization’s data center is now being compounded with traffic that’s going to the internet.

If you require reliable speed and want to avoid this additional layer of traffic, you might consider transitioning to a direct connect.

2. Dedicated connection or ISP connection

A dedicated – or direct — connection is a physical connection on a private circuit. This can be accomplished in two ways.

First, you connect directly to a cloud provider using your own hardware or utilizing your internet service provider’s (ISP) connections – like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). Second, if you’re using a colocation facility that has a connection to the cloud, you cross-connect through the data center.

Cost and speed are major factors when determining if direct connect is the best path for you, as this can be an expensive approach.

3. Software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN)

SD-WAN uses private and VPN links for multiple paths to the cloud. With an SD-WAN overlay, software determines the best path to follow at a given time.

You can also configure the software to meet your needs, setting a threshold for metrics to determine one path or another. For example, if you wanted most of your traffic to take a MPLS path (because you pay for that guaranteed bandwidth) and then switch to VPN if it becomes too congested.

In concept, SD-WAN offers redundancy to branch users with multiple connections. However, it does often require additional equipment and you can lose end-to-end encryption and visibility.

Choosing one connection method over another

Consider the level of service you need.

Cost, speed to get operational, or redundancy could all be contributing factors. An organization’s geolocation may also play a crucial role, as it can, ultimately, limit available options.

Additionally, certain service level agreements (SLAs) – requiring a specific level of uptime or even a dedicated amount of bandwidth – can rule out options like multiple VPN tunnels.

The connection method you choose will depend heavily on how your infrastructure is configured and what your on-premises presence looks like.

Maintaining connectivity in the cloud

Your ability to maintain connectivity in the cloud will vary based on the method you’re using. You may be required to utilize specific colocation facilities or ISPs. Of course, as those services shift and are redefined, your costs could significantly grow.

The more you move workloads to the cloud, the less you need dedicated interconnects. Therefore, you can take advantage of more cost-effective solutions like SD-WAN or VPN tunnels where you previously couldn’t.

For these reasons, it’s imperative that you’re consistently evaluating which workloads make most sense on-premises and which ones are more beneficial in the cloud. Performing regular application assessments and identifying application dependencies can save you time, headaches, and money down the road.

Alter the way you think about connections

Traditional networking offers you the sort of visibility you’ll never get in the cloud. You spin up Wireshark, and you can see every little thing that moves across the wire.

With the cloud, you can’t just capture the packets as you would on-premises – and that can be hard for certain network engineers to wrap their heads around. But the cloud isn’t going anywhere – in fact, cloud adoption is accelerating as more businesses embrace hybrid infrastructure.

Connection to cloud just requires a slightly different way of thinking about connections. But, once you’re willing to make that leap, you quickly realize the advantage for your organization and end users.

Of course, along with modernizing your network for hybrid infrastructure, you must secure it. But that’s a story for another post. Stay tuned.

For a high-level perspective on infrastructure modernization and moving to the cloud, read this ebook on Cloud Ascension.

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