Cloud Managed, Cloud Based, & Cloud Native

What's In a Cloud?

Image Source: Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

It seems like only yesterday we were all running around saying “What is a cloud?”. Remember all those alignment meetings so we could all get on the same page about what we mean when we say “Cloud”.

Taxonomy discussions are some of the inanest in business, and yet, language comprehension is fundamental to everything we do. In this article, I discuss what a few “Cloud” things mean to me.

Cloud Managed

Cloud Managed has been a significant shift in networking, and one with great benefit. I am not sure every corner of IT uses the term the same way networking folk do, but…

I would say Cisco’s Meraki was the first offering that really got my attention in this context. You take a hardware offering (or not), you license some software as a service (subscription - because it is an ongoing cloud managed service), and you provide an easy to use central/cloud interface for all the devices under management and relieve the service customer of the burden of IT staff/infrastructure to manage it. Combining security and some other functionality, for example WLAN management, you get an offering that is particularly attractive for businesses that do not have many internal IT resources, for example SMB/SME, and over time, it can also become compelling for other service customer segments.

In today’s market, this cloud managed paradigm is now evolving, augmented with the kind of AI/ML smarts we see in Juniper’s Mist offering, with no doubt more to come industry wide. Hard to imagine any new branch solution coming to market today without being cloud managed.

I do not view SD-WAN as being implicit in the Cloud-Managed idea, because a great cloud-managed service can be provided without SD-WAN being part of the package, but obviously there is overlap and plenty of room for these ideas to come together. As SD-WAN becomes more pervasive, Cloud-managed will no doubt become synonymous with SD-WAN / SD-Branch.

Cloud-Based / Network-Based / Edge Compute / Distributed Cloud…

Just when it seemed like we had this “What is Cloud” thing worked out, it suddenly has become murky again. Is the cloud a big, centralized beast like AWS (availability zones notwithstanding)? Is the cloud a POP used to provide managed security, SD-WAN, or SASE services? Is the cloud any compute node in any strip mall?

Personally, I would prefer to say “network-based”, to refer to anything embedded in distributed locations. However, I don’t get to decide what language the industry uses, I have to adopt it, just like everyone else ;-)

In an era where new networks are being built, with many tens to hundreds of POPs, to provide distributed security, networking, or application services, there needs to be some common terminology around what is happening, because it is an important and value-added shift.

For many, the term they lean on is Edge Computing. I’m ok with that term, I think I know what it means [arrogantly he wrote], and I think it is something around the idea of distributed computing and applications anywhere. In some specific segments of the industry, for example Telco, or within a specific company, the term may take on an even more specific meaning, derived from an actual implementation.

Cloud-based, network-based, edge compute, distributed cloud? I kind of like network-based or distributed cloud, but your mileage may vary.

Cloud Native

Containers are for some, a proxy for “Cloud Native”, just like me understanding what “Fide Et Labore” means (literally and figuratively/philosophically), is a marker for being part of a club of people who were raised under a similar philosophy and cultural ambience. However, there is much more to me than that, and there is much more to being Cloud Native than containers.

Sure, as we discuss the evolution of NFV, or rather the struggle of NFV standards to keep up with IT trends, contrasting VMs and Containers is going to be a core part of the conversation.

However, there is so much more to a CI/CD mindset and tool chain than just that one thing. So much more than I would ever attempt to understand or describe in an article.

Cloud native is about adopting a certain ethos, it is about understanding and embracing the kinds of APIs, technologies, data descriptions, and foundational elements that are ever evolving, but distinct from IT as we once knew it.

To give one example. I was inspired to go look into Netlify today, deeper than I had in the past, because it is being used by some entrepreneurs I know. Putting aside all the things that the Netlify service and the Jamstack architecture do for web designers / deployers, there are the simple things like being able to pull a website from Git. The many ways people have found to use Git over the last few years is very interesting and is another marker for the kind of developer culture an organization is operating within.

For some development teams, using Git to get stuff done is as natural as eating. For other development teams, it is a diet that they have to be forced to adopt (though less and less as time goes on).

Knowing where the cloud-IT ecosystem is going, fully embracing it, and leveraging the popular approaches, is what cloud-native really is. Containers is one marker, because it is on the ascendance. Who knows though, in a few years it might be serverless which is on the ascendance, we shall see…

Conclusion

Inane taxonomy discussions are not my favorite use, of my precious and valuable time, but hey, we do have this language thing we need to use, in order to communicate. I do think of cloud managed as being something different to distributed cloud or SD-WAN, and I do think of cloud native as being much more than containers. Wishing everyone well in the ever-evolving IT landscape, and the terms we use to communicate with each other. Fun times!