cloud networking

Cloud networking is when some or all of an organization's networking resources are located in the cloud. Hosting networking resources in the cloud means that businesses can create complex networks only with the need for an internet connection. Networking resources are normally hosted by a third-party cloud provider.

Cloud networking focuses on the ability for a cloud customer to design, configure and manage the underlying network in a cloud service. This enables a shift of network management, control and data connectivity from on-premises to cloud infrastructure. Networking resources or services that can be hosted by cloud networking include the following:

  • network management software
  • data connectivity
  • virtual routers
  • firewalls
  • load balancers
  • bandwidth
  • content delivery network (CDN)
  • virtual private network (VPN)
  • domain name system (DNS)

In addition, cloud networking can open up more network security options by enabling cloud providers to offer a broad range of security services tailored to cloud networking. Firewalls are included in this list of services, but other options exist, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection services and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven network monitoring tools for threat detection. CDNs are another important service to cloud networking, responsible for adding scale, redundancy, security and speed. CDN services can accelerate web and mobile app response times for end users that are physically located far from the virtual machines (VMs) and storage used by an app.

The technology used to make cloud networking operate is based on cloud computing. This means that cloud networking can be delivered through public, private or hybrid cloud services.

Types of cloud networking

There are two main types of cloud networking: cloud-enabled networking and cloud-based networking.

  1. Cloud-enabled networking is a cloud networking method where network architecture is on premises but some or the rest of other network resources used for management are in the cloud. For example, core network infrastructure, such as packet forwarding and routing, would stay on premises, while services such as network management, monitoring and security services maintenance may be located in the cloud.
  2. Cloud-based networking is another method in which the entire network is based in the cloud. This process is used to enable connectivity between the resources and applications deployed in the cloud.

How does cloud networking work?

In general, cloud networking architectures should provide centralized management, control and visibility. Cloud networking is created using cloud-based services and will be set up differently depending on the type of cloud service it is being hosted on. For example, with a private cloud, architects will have far more flexibility when it comes to the overall design. This is because the cloud provider fully manages the underlying hardware and software on which the cloud is built.

For public clouds, customers can control and manage networking only in infrastructure as a service (IaaS) deployments. With software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), the customer has no control over network functions, as they're fully managed by the service provider. If organizations need to be able to configure aspects of their network in a public cloud, IaaS is their option.

Difference between public and private clouds
This image shows some of the base differences between public and private clouds.

An organization may instead opt to operate in a hybrid cloud architecture. That means some applications, data and services reside on premises, while others are moved to an IaaS provider. The ideal scenario for organizations with this method would be to mimic the network Internet Protocol (IP) space, policies and procedures already established in their own data centers.

Some businesses may even go an additional step further by using multiple cloud service providers in a multi-cloud architecture. Symmetry among clouds is key in this method, from both an operational and cloud management perspective. Organizations moving toward multi-cloud must be able to manage routing, access lists, load balancing and other network functions, no matter which cloud they're in. Multi-cloud management tools need to be purpose-built in order to create a software overlay between private and public clouds, which masks any underlying differences in configuration management. The multi-cloud option is far more complex than other options.

Benefits and challenges

The benefits of cloud networking include the following:

  • Lower cost. This is compared to having organizations buy their own network equipment and software. Cloud networking is also based on pay-per-use models.
  • Productivity. IT staff won't have to worry about pushing hardware and software upgrades or configuration and maintenance updates to the cloud networking service. This should free an organization's IT staff to work on other tasks.
  • Reliability. Server load balancing helps minimize downtime, as well as there being a lack of needing to bring the system down with updates. Cloud services also normally promote high availability (HA).
  • Fast deployments. Users can start new applications without needing to spend time installing and configuring networking tools.
  • Scalability. Cloud networking providers can just add more of an organization's data, as opposed to adding more infrastructure on premises.
  • Flexibility. Customers have the option to choose the type of deployment on public, private or hybrid clouds.
  • Security. Cloud networking providers can provide security options, such as firewalls, encryption, authentication and malware protection. Cloud networking is not free from challenges, however.

Some challenges involved with this can include the following:

  • Vendor lock-in. Being locked into one cloud provider could prevent any needed movements or pivots between cloud services. This can be mitigated using a multi-cloud method; however, this is more difficult to accomplish.
  • Connectivity and uptime. Even though cloud providers tend to promote HA of their services, whenever something goes wrong, it will be out of the customer's control.
  • Security. As security is a concern with any tool, organizations should first make sure there is an acceptable amount of network security services provided by whichever vendor they choose.

Cloud networking vs. cloud computing

Cloud networking and cloud computing are two similar concepts that could be easily confused. Cloud computing is a general term that involves delivering hosted services over the internet. These services are divided into three categories: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. Cloud computing involves hosting to a cloud service provider's data centers, out of traditional in-house or colocated data centers. However, cloud networking is more specific, as it focuses on hosting an organization's networking resources in the cloud.

There's a natural overlap between cloud networking and cloud computing. As an example, some functions centered in network appliances on 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.


The history behind cloud networking follows closely with the history of cloud computing in general. Over time, corporate data center resources evolved and moved from on-premises mainframes to the cloud. Added benefits of hosting data centers in the cloud included security, uptime, scalability and the freedom of not having to worry about on-premises deployments. Because of these benefits and the cloud services that they offered, more organizations began moving to the cloud -- for example, software-defined networks could now be hosted within the cloud. With this movement, the option of hosting just networking systems on the cloud arose. Product offerings from vendors such as IBM and Juniper started releasing, which offered software to help build agile network infrastructures. Juniper Contrail Enterprise Multicloud, for example, delivers software-defined networking cloud options, as well as cloud service automation.

This was last updated in November 2020

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