Cloud-managed networking has emerged as a critical solution for IT leaders who need a network that offers scale, security, and intelligence while upleveling work experiences for employees both on or off-site. Cloud-managed networking offers a variety of tech solutions for unparalleled efficiency and scalability beyond just the ability to access and control your network from anywhere—your home office, on the road, or even poolside.
Read on to discover why enterprises seeking to capitalize on the latest tech advancements—from security to IoT—are migrating to a cloud-managed network model.
What is cloud-managed networking and how does it work?
When your network is managed over the cloud it means that the management and provisioning of your network devices—as well as the storage and handling of much of your data—is done over third-party servers.
Network administrators access these servers via a web-based application or dashboard where they can view and manage all of their network devices in one place. They can also access a suite of applications or even build bespoke applications to run on their cloud-managed networks. These applications enable a myriad of use cases—such as the ability to provide guest Wi-Fi, monitor usage, leverage IoT devices, and more.
How is a cloud-managed network structured?
Essentially, there are three layers of a cloud-managed network:
Software layer—This is where applications that add value to your cloud-based network live. These can be third-party applications or ones your team develops themselves for various use cases.
Cloud layer—Devices and software meet in the middle on a unified cloud-based platform. Users access this platform via a dashboard application that enables them to manage their devices and use applications from the software layer.
Device layer—These are the devices that make up your enterprise network across all locations globally. This includes remote worker devices accessing the cloud network over VPN.
What are the benefits of a cloud-managed network vs. a traditional network?
Easier to onboard, manage, and scale from day one
One of the biggest benefits of managing your network through the cloud is the ability to connect your existing high-performing hardware to a more flexible, scalable platform with the visibility and control you need to manage sites remotely.
Take as an example that you want to set up a field office in a remote location with limited IT support. Your IT team back at HQ can pre-provision network devices so when an office manager arrives on-site, all they need to do is plug the devices in and follow a few intuitive steps to get the network up and running. On top of that, the office manager would have access to the same software tools as their HQ counterparts via the web-based dashboard.
This ease of scalability and management enables your business to grow with fewer limitations due to location and personnel.
Security is a common concern for those considering a move to a cloud-managed network model. It may be intuitive to think that handing over network management and (gasp!) data over to a third party creates risk, but consider that there are inherent risks with traditional, on-premises networks.
If you’re like most businesses, your network equipment is probably in just a few physical locations. This makes the network highly prone to physical threats—whether by natural disasters or break-ins—because there is no redundant data center standing by as a backup.
Additionally, keeping network equipment and software constantly up-to-date is necessary to reduce the risk of cyber attacks, but that also requires continual investments in upgraded technology and personnel.
Cloud networking vendors are better able to make investments in network infrastructure that may be cost prohibitive for your business. This includes setting up redundant data centers spread out across geographies and keeping hardware and software constantly updated to keep hackers at bay.
With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) there is now a plethora of devices that can be connected to your network to provide data on pretty much anything. Smart cameras can track how people move around your space and smart environmental sensors monitor temperature and humidity to help protect expensive equipment and help maintain employee comfort and well-being. These days, you can connect a button to your network and make it do anything—perhaps upgrade your sales gong.
While those examples barely scratch the surface of the kind of data IoT can capture, it’s important to consider that data and intelligence are not the same. IoT devices and cloud-managed networking complement each other so you can maximize the intelligence you get from your smart devices.
Managing smart devices is made straightforward when all of them exist on a single dashboard. Also, apps from the software layer that are purpose-built to work with IoT data can turn troves of data into actionable insights. You can also build your own apps to work with your devices for custom use cases and insights.
Purpose-built for hybrid work
Back to managing your network poolside—cloud-managed networking is a perfect match for remote work. Devices can be set up and managed from anywhere with an internet connection. This means that network administrators no longer need to travel to multiple sites to set up new locations. Even when something goes wrong, troubleshooting can be done directly from the web-based dashboard.
Even beyond your IT team, a cloud-based network has benefits for hybrid work. Setting up VPN access for at-home workers is a snap thanks to dashboard tools and apps. You can even send workers home with their own secure gateway that—like all other cloud-based devices—can be set up with ease.
Considering all of these benefits, it’s easy to see how a cloud-managed network can end up being much more cost-effective than a traditional on-premises network.
For one thing, a cloud-managed network provides competitive advantages in terms of scalability. Devices can be set up remotely by lean IT teams, reducing travel and labor costs.
Cloud-managed networking also eliminates the need to make substantial up-front and rolling investments in infrastructure to keep it continuously secure and optimized. Vendors are able to leverage fees from all of their clients to make these capital investments—spreading out costs to spare you the invoice.
What to look for in a cloud-managed networking vendor
If a cloud-managed network sounds like just the solution you’ve been looking for, then the next step is to find a vendor. There are a lot to choose from, so make sure you consider the following while you shop around.
Security—We talked about the ability of cloud-networking vendors to make big investments in security, but do your due diligence and make sure they’re actually making those investments. Any vendor that’s up to scratch will have security information readily available.
Advanced hardware—Just like your laptop becomes a dinosaur after five years, networking hardware advances fast. Look for a vendor who keeps their hardware up-to-date with the most advanced offerings, from Wi-Fi 6E-capable access points to sensors and smart cameras. Also, don’t be fooled by vendors who claim to play nice with hardware from other brands—you’ll always get the most compatibility from devices purpose-built for their platform.
Technology ecosystem—We discussed that one of the benefits of a cloud-managed network is the ability to leverage applications for a range of use cases. Be sure to check which applications your vendor provides out of the box. If you don’t see any that meet your needs, check to see if they support development of your own apps.
Now that we’ve cleared the skies about cloud-managed networking, it’s easy to see how it can be a win for your team. No matter the size of your business, cloud networking offers unparalleled scale, security, and intelligence. So go ahead, hang out by the pool a little longer. We won’t tell. Besides, if your network needs attention, you can bring it with you.