Architects agree: cloud networking needs collaboration

Two architects share firsthand with BlueCat the challenges when cloud and network teams don’t collaborate, and offer advice on how to do it right.

Rebekah Taylor

June 28, 2021

The success of enterprise cloud adoption hinges on the ability of cloud and network teams to work together.

Research by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) has found that 72% of enterprises struggle to achieve the full value of the cloud (private or public). A critical issue behind this is that network infrastructure services aren’t integrated into the cloud adoption process.

Senior infrastructure and cloud architect silhouette
“David”, a senior infrastructure and cloud architect at a major payment system provider
Security network architect silhouette


“John”, a security network architect at a cybersecurity products company

There is indeed a correlation between success in the cloud and integration between cloud and networking teams. In fact, respondents who reported that their enterprises were successful in realizing the benefits of cloud adoption were two times as likely to also say that their cloud and networking teams were fully integrated at the architecture and design, implementation, and operations levels.

EMA’s lead researcher on the inquiry, Shamus McGillicuddy, conducted in-depth interviews with some stakeholders to get their take on the topic. Among them were David, a senior infrastructure and cloud architect at a major payment system provider, and John, a security network architect at a cybersecurity products company. (Made-up first names to protect stakeholders’ identities.)

This post will offer their firsthand insight into the consequences of what happens when network infrastructure and cloud teams don’t collaborate. Next, it will capture these two stakeholders’ thoughts on the value that each team can bring to the other. Then, it will explore some of the challenges that each has seen when trying to bring these two teams together. And finally, it will delve into their advice on how to achieve successful collaboration.

Consequences when network and cloud teams don’t collaborate

EMA’s research found some striking impacts that result from poor collaboration between cloud and network teams. Specifically, 73% of respondents’ enterprises have experienced security and compliance issues, 89% have experienced IT operations issues, and 82% have suffered business-level problems.

‘A glacial divide’ between the two teams’ philosophies

David, the senior infrastructure and cloud architect, says that, at his organization, the cloud and network teams fit together poorly and think in fundamentally different ways.

“Sometimes there is a glacial divide between the two groups,” he says. “Cloud people don’t often don’t know how to think about static data centers.”

But, he points out, that’s very much a two-way street. Networking people struggle to put themselves in the shoes of cloud experts, too. He said that some people are able to bridge that divide, but many cannot. There is often conflict and it’s difficult to get things done.

“The major philosophical differences are less in cloud versus data center, and more in the static versus dynamic world,” David says. “The tight architecture versus the loose-coupling philosophies.”

The major philosophical differences are less in cloud versus data center, and more in the static versus dynamic world.

The network teams want to treat the cloud as a data center, spinning up and deploying typical servers. Meanwhile, the cloud teams want autoscaling and server-less implementation, with the rapid adoption of new technologies.

Both teams don’t understand each other’s work

John, the network security architect, notes that the average network admin is unprepared for what comes with the cloud. The cloud is object-based, with very little documentation, and is largely driven by application development.

“Most of them have not really studied up on cloud environments because they’re so focused on learning traditional network designs,” he says.

Lacking understanding, the IT team lets the application development team do their thing, not even realizing that they might need to bring the network team in.

Meanwhile, application teams don’t understand infrastructure.

For example, John says, management might move an organization to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to get the best price for storage. They tell application development to connect Microsoft Azure’s front end to it, but without any thought about how connection points will happen.

“It takes a big thought process to link all that together,” he says. “And I think only guys who have been dealing with traditional infrastructure would be able to ease into that. So you have app-centric people trying to learn networks and networking people trying to learn cloud.”

Why do 72% of enterprises struggle to realize the full value of the cloud? This report by EMA breaks it down.

Negative consequences spread across the business

David, the senior infrastructure and cloud architect, has seen the negative outcomes that can result when networking and cloud teams can’t work together.

As reported by EMA survey respondents, business problems caused over the last year by challenges to network and cloud team collaborationAbove: As reported by EMA survey respondents, business problems caused over the last year by challenges to network and cloud team collaboration.

In his experience, it has led to high turnover, missed deadlines for changes and rollouts, and poor technology decisions. Short-sighted choices result in systems that get more complicated and unwieldy.

John, the network security architect, said he has seen red team penetration test findings in areas the teams thought were secure. He has also witnessed operational breakdowns. Cloud teams quickly implement automation tools while not providing the network operations team with any training in them. Thus, they lack any visibility into or understanding of the intended state.

The research backs this up. EMA found that 82% of enterprises experienced business problems related to this poor collaboration over the last year. Lost end-user productivity was the most common business problem. Many also reported cost overruns, customer churn, and turnover within the IT organization.

The value of integration for cloud networking success

Network teams have much to offer cloud. This is especially true for expertise in stability and networking basics, according to David, the senior infrastructure and cloud architect.

Just because the cloud is robust doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about networking.

“They will often understand things at a more fundamental level,” he says. “And just because the cloud is robust doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about networking. Cloud developers don’t have the depth in the core hosting areas that the legacy infrastructure teams have.”

Meanwhile, the reverse is also true: Cloud teams can bring value to traditional networks. This includes a more flexible and open-minded perspective that can inspire new innovation in the data center. Often, David says, cloud teams are simply less jaded.

“The flexibility of mental patterns that exist in the cloud can be poured into the data center and be revolutionary there,” he says.

This might include taking a code-as-infrastructure approach by building a base platform on OpenStack and using APIs to bring up resources when they’re needed. Or, perhaps a micro-segmentation approach to building a zero-trust network model.

The challenges of bringing network and cloud teams together

Both said that changing culture and mindset is the biggest obstacle to getting these two teams to collaborate. Management can either be a barrier or pry the gates open, John, the network security architect says.

Organizational structures centered around business units can make that even more difficult, David, the senior infrastructure and cloud architect says. In many organizations, business unit leadership drives the cloud.

When you bring a new business unit into a tightly controlled and integrated core networking organization, it can cause a lot of friction. Network leaders may try to impose their data center mindset on the business unit, which wants to do things their own way.

Leaders at the manager and director level in both the networking and cloud organizations have good ideas, David says. But problems happen when they want to hold onto their fiefdoms on either side. It’s the usual mindset of they must do it the way they have always done it.

“People don’t look at alternatives because that means they’re wrong,” he adds.

He suggests a change program that specifically addresses those management tiers and synthesizes the ideas that both groups own. Bridging that divide, David says, is probably the hardest thing to do.

“It’s not a technical problem—it’s a people problem,” he says. “You can’t throw technical solutions at people problems.”

How to achieve successful network and cloud team collaboration

When collaboration is successful, it results in a much faster time to market. For example, David says, a traditional data center alone could not build a new financial service capability that his company now offers.

A push from the top to work together

The call for collaboration and the push to work together needs to come down from the CIO, David says.

He adds that the manner of team integration matters, too. You don’t want core teams for networking and cloud now merely moved under the same umbrella but still siloed. Organizing various cross-functional implementation teams can be effective, he notes. They work on the same tools, reducing cycle times and communication burdens.

Network infrastructure representation at cloud meetings

John, the network security architect, notes that his company is making progress but still has a long way to go. “Everywhere I look, there is very little communication between application development and the infrastructure team,” he says. “We need more meetings, more insight into what applications are developing in the cloud and why so we can collaborate on what things can talk to what, what objects can be involved in collaboration.”

He suggests that, at a minimum, at least one network infrastructure representative needs to be at cloud team meetings “to find out what the roadmap looks like,” he says.

“To find out how connectivity flows. Failover. Testing. And then they can cross-train and bring info back to their teams,” John continues. “I was pushing for that at my last job but it never happened.”

A unified view of cloud and on-premises

Furthermore, John says, whether it’s core network infrastructure or the cloud, unification is essential for central visibility and ease of troubleshooting.

The cloud space needs to talk to all the other spaces—whether it’s a branch, headquarters, or data center.

“The cloud space needs to talk to all the other spaces—whether it’s a branch, headquarters, or data center,” he says. “Any issue with IP addressing could add another one- to five-year project that costs millions to resolve. Same thing with DNS. It needs to be unified.”

P.S. Read more to learn how BlueCat can help you unify DNS management across on-premises and cloud networks.

The importance of training

John noted that training traditional networking people on the cloud is important. And that there is a lot to learn.

Each of the cloud service providers has its own core services and then hundreds or thousands of additional services. Security is also a huge piece, particularly because of how fast you can move in the cloud—corners get easily skipped. Segmentation is also crucial.

“There is no magic easy button for network infrastructure in the cloud,” John says. “It’s just as complicated.”

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Rebekah Taylor is a former journalist turned freelance writer and editor who has been translating technical speak into prose for more than two decades. Her first job in the early 2000s was at a small start-up called VMware. She holds degrees from Cornell University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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