Network infrastructure has changed a bit in recent years, leaving some IT pros to feel like they are waking up in a new world every day. Nowhere has this change been more prevalent than in the foundational overhaul inflicted by the digitization and growth of what we call cloud-native computing.
While the trend towards microservices and containerization has resulted in agile and easier to maintain networks that are accessible to businesses of all sizes, it also leaves IT-professionals wondering when it comes time to change something in the underlying network structure. In other words, due to the nature of cloud-native computing, they are no longer able to make the incremental network changes that used to be a matter of course.
However, when there’s a problem, there’s a solution usually. A new range of alternative technologies has arisen that should put control back in the company IT department’s hands.
Here you can get a better idea of what we mean.
Enter the World of Cloud-Managed Networks
Cloud-managed networks (CMNs) are a natural extension of the Software-as-a-Service technology (SaaS), which first dawned in the public consciousness as a few low-key cloud storage services (Dropbox was an early innovator), but has since evolved far beyond simply a distant server on which to park your files.
To get a better idea, think that the “control panel” has been relocated from a geographically specific area - such as a room in the company headquarters - to the cloud. While the feeling that you’ve lost control can expect to be disconcerting at first, the new arrangement will actually open up a new world.
Network users and devices can now be reliably managed no matter where they are in the world as they go about their daily work. This should be an exciting development for companies who have recently gained a distributed workforce.
The "as-a-service" part of this technology even includes the network parts you've come to consider part of the hardware, such as security gateways, wireless access points, and switches. You'll be able to see, manage, diagnose, and monitor issues all through a single cloud-based interface. Is it different? Absolutely. Will you grow to like it? Hopefully.
Containers Aren’t Going Away
More than a few IT pros felt as if they’d been thrown into the deep end of the pool when the concept of containers and container networking emerged onto the scene. Obviously, the old methods of controlling such a foreign network construction were not going to work anymore.
Luckily, Kubernetes software has emerged with a solution that allows containers to use a new standard called a container network interface (CNI) to not only talk to one another but the outside world as well. It should go without saying that, unless you learn to understand Kubernetes networking, you might have just reached the apex of your IT career. It’s that big of a deal.
Having said that, though, it might make sense for your company to refrain from making major investments in long-term licensing or proprietary technology related to container networking over the next year or so. Things are moving fast in the industry. Now is definitely the time to watch, learn, and let the major players sort themselves out.
Service Meshes are Becoming a Mature Technology
Somewhat farther down the road to widespread adoption is the idea of a service mesh. If you’re an IT network pro who hasn’t studied this idea much yet, now would be a good time. The concept is simple. Still, on the topic of containers running mini or microservices, a mesh is simply a tool intended to aid in the undergoing transition of massive, monolithic applications down to the agile, distributed model supported by container networks.
A service mesh is a relatively lightweight solution that offers a lot of control to network engineers. We’re talking about things like authentication, load balancing, and more. As businesses move deeper into the idea, security becomes even more of a concern than it already is because the reality is that microservices by their nature increase the attack surface.
One option is to encrypt data that passes between containers in a way that only you, or whoever has a special key to decrypt it, will be able to read the information. However, you have to keep in mind that this is a resource-heavy solution. If you’re interested, you can check this extremely detailed discussion of how service meshes address container security through Istio.
Back in 2017, Google, IBM, and Lyft jump-started the mesh framework idea with an open-source project called Istio. This was in response to the growing realization that traditional API gateway technologies would be too ponderous to use with the growing micro-services trend. Istio has continued to gain momentum as the foundational technology behind a host of commercial mesh ventures.
The bottom line for those who earn their keep creating and maintaining networks is that you won’t be able to rest on your laurels. To stay current and employable, you’re going to have to learn new technologies and become comfortable with what has certainly been a ground floor rethinking of how a network operates. But you got into this business because you like challenges, right?
It’s a good guess that we’ve just scratched the surface of network containerization. It’s important to keep in mind that the direction any technology takes is not intended for the sole purpose of tormenting those who are accustomed to using traditional technology. There are benefits to containers, which is why those at the forefront of the field keep pushing.
If you remember nothing else from this article, focus on the idea that containers allow true code portability and will make your job easier in the long run. As platforms and cloud services multiply, you won’t be stuck retooling the same code for a dozen different uses. This makes app deployment truly a set it and forget it endeavor that can be rolled out and scaled up or down across whatever computing environment you encounter.