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Cloud networking vs. cloud computing: What's the difference?

Organizations might sometimes consider cloud computing and cloud networking as interchangeable due to their similarities. But the two strategies have different goals and processes.

The use of cloud computing has risen steadily, as organizations increasingly run their applications in cloud services. As cloud computing adoption has grown, cloud networking has emerged adjacently.

Comparing cloud networking vs. cloud computing highlights some similarities between the two strategies -- but they are different. While cloud computing concerns how applications run, cloud networking concerns how access to applications is delivered.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is the shift of application hosting to a cloud service provider's data centers, out of traditional in-house or colocated data centers. The enterprise customer has no access to or direct control of the underlying hardware services. Depending on the type of cloud service, the customer has visibility into and control of different layers above the hardware. For example, the three cloud computing models below offer different levels of control:

  1. IaaS delivers a hypervisor layer on which customers provision VMs, for example, and can monitor from the OS level up.
  2. PaaS provides access to some type of middleware environment in which an application can be deployed and behavior of the code and environment -- but not the layers underneath it -- can be monitored.
  3. SaaS provides access to a running application, and customers can only monitor their own slice of that application.

Cloud networking

Cloud networking is the shift of network management, control and even data connectivity onto cloud services. Examples include using cloud-based network controllers to direct traffic across WAN connections or a cloud service provider's internal WAN to carry customer WAN traffic.

A natural overlap exists between cloud networking and cloud computing. For example, some functions centered in network appliances in a legacy data center can be embedded in a cloud computing environment, as with load balancers, or delivered as a SaaS-style cloud service, as with secure web gateways or firewalls.

Nearly all organizations use cloud computing, as more than 97% use SaaS at least, according to Nemertes Research. Fewer organizations use cloud networking, but with the spread of cloud-based software-defined WAN, cloud-based wireless LAN management and secure cloud access services, the number will rise sharply.

Next Steps

Test your knowledge on cloud networking with this quiz

Explore some basic terms related to cloud networking

Learn how to build cloud-based infrastructure layer by layer

This was last published in February 2020

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