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Today’s networks are too complex for manual network management and updates.  With most enterprises composed of tens of thousands of devices spanning multiple geographical locations, on-premises hardware, Virtual environment, and multiple clouds – it’s virtually impossible to push updates manually.   Also – the sheer volume of vendors and coding languages can be overwhelming for a network operations engineer.  In most cases learning a new language or new platform takes eight weeks to achieve basic proficiency; its not realistic to expect human skills to scale at the pace of network innovation (aka network complexity)

Fig 1. Itential Automation Example

Which is why we decided to integrate the Forward Networks platform with the industry-leading network assurance platform, Itential.  Their low-code automation platform makes it easy for network operations teams to deploy and manage multi-domain infrastructures.  Itential’s cloud-native software as a service offering provides a low-code interface that seamlessly connects to any IT system, cloud, or network technology for end-to-end closed-loop network automation and orchestration. Forward Enterprise enables network operators to deploy automated changes with the assurance that they are in compliance with network policies and won’t have any unintended side effects.

Fig 2. Closing the Loop: Automation + Verification

Forward Enterprise helps network operations engineers avoid outages through its unique mathematical model. The platform creates a digital twin of the network (across on-premises devices, private and public cloud) enabling network operators to map all possible traffic flows, instantly troubleshoot, verify intent, predict network behavior, and reduce MTTR (mean time to resolution). Itential simplifies and accelerates the deployment and management of multi-domain network infrastructure. Both platforms support major network equipment vendors and AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud platforms.

Fig 3. Automate Service Provisioning with Forward Networks and Itential

The Closed Loop Automation process enabled by the integration of Forward Networks Platform and Itential Automation Platform (IAP) acts as a safeguard to prevent any issues from becoming pervasive following a change window.  Using the pre-built automations, templates, form builder, automation builder within Automation Studio makes it easy for network operations engineers to build an automation catalog that enables changes at scale.  By using the API integration with Forward Networks, they can verify routing, add intent checks, verify new service connectivity, check for side effects and send notifications and verifications via Slack, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEX, and email.  Integration with change management systems including ServiceNow and Jira ensure everyone is working from a single source of truth and expedites collaboration. In the event of an issue, the diff check functionality within the Forward Networks platform makes it easy to pinpoint which changes are causing any unplanned behavior.

For more detail on how the integration works, please view our ONUG Spring 2021 session.

As more enterprise-class cloud platforms have emerged over the last few years, organizations are looking to leverage these alternatives to take best advantage of each in a multi-cloud IT strategy. The advantages of a multi-cloud strategy can easily include resiliency, price-competitiveness, feature-alignment, and cross-silo visibility. 

But with all these advantages comes the complexity of dealing with inconsistencies between cloud providers, both from a policy compliance perspective, as well as a consolidated management view. To be successful, organizations need a common verification platform to ensure easy transition and flexibility between multi-cloud providers. 

SDxCentral outlined some of the key benefits of a multi-cloud strategy in this article:

Enterprises select a multi-cloud strategy due to the benefits. For starters, the multi-cloud is readily available. If one cloud is offline, then the enterprise may still work on the other clouds and achieve its goals. It’s also customizable and flexible in the sense that an enterprise may “select the ‘best’ of each cloud type to suit their particular business needs, economics, locations, and timing.”  Another significant draw for a multi-cloud adoption is that enterprises can escape vendor lock-in as its data is stored on various service providers’ clouds.

The multi-cloud strategy offers security precautions that a single cloud deployment does not. According to Citrix, the multi-cloud also hinders Shadow IT activity. The company describes Shadow IT as “technology used by individuals or groups within an organization that is not managed by the organization’s IT department. This problem tends to arise when policy-compliant IT does not fully meet the needs of the organization. A multi-cloud environment allows groups to comply with IT policy while benefiting from a specific cloud technology.” It also dodges the gravity of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack as the attack won’t affect all the clouds within a multi-cloud, leaving the enterprise still functional despite the attack.

But what are the differences and complexity between this and a traditional hybrid cloud strategy? In a hybrid cloud strategy, which includes a single primary cloud provider and the on-premises private cloud, there is no need to worry about inconsistencies between cloud infrastructures. If, for example, application deployments should be consistent from a myriad of policy requirements between two or more cloud providers, that has been a lot of work to ensure just from a security and application connectivity perspective. 

Similarly, should a multi-cloud strategy imply that traffic flows are not going between cloud providers and that each cloud provider is just a siloed hybrid cloud deployment? Hopefully, not, but how can network administrators visualize and manage network paths and topologies across multiple cloud vendors? Are destinations in each cloud provider reachable with the right application policies, with the optimal traffic patterns, across multiple providers and the on-premises hybrid cloud network? Who is providing this management view, tools, and verification checks?

Hybrid cloud platforms and management tools often have a difficult time showing end-to-end traffic flows and topologies across a single cloud provider and the on-premises network. But this is exactly what makes Forward Networks an ideal platform to ease the migration from a hybrid cloud approach to a multi-cloud strategy.

Within our multi-vendor, cloud-agnostic verification platform, we eliminate the seams between cloud vendors and the private cloud network. Not only can the entire topology of a multi-cloud environment be visualized in a single view, but we can ensure that implementations for various policy requirements are consistent between cloud providers. Organizations can eliminate most of the complexity and differences between various cloud platforms, or at least easily verify the impact of deployments as they are migrated from one provider to another. 

Distributing workloads to where they make the most sense financially and technically can finally be managed with greater flexibility and confidence. If an organization has experts on managing only a single hybrid cloud infrastructure, now everyone can take advantage of a common view and automated verification checks to quickly assess network-wide, multi-cloud policies, identify configuration errors between cloud platforms and quickly add more value to the organization. 

Today, Forward Networks supports AWS VPC cloud services, along with Microsoft Azure, and (coming soon) Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Building a multi-cloud environment between and across these vendors has never been easier or cost-effective, as you look to avoid cloud-provider lock-in. 

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