Optimizing Azure Hybrid Cloud with ExpressRoute and NaaS

We recently held a webinar entitled “Azure ExpressRoute —An Agile Hybrid Cloud Approach,” and had a huge turnout, which makes sense because we’re seeing a lot of customers start to move towards using ExpressRoute as they expand their use of Microsoft Azure across a variety of use cases. In this blog, I’ll delve into how Azure hybrid cloud infrastructure can be optimized with ExpressRoute enhanced with automation-driven Network-as-a-Service connectivity.

The Rise of Hybrid and Multi-Cloud Services

Growth of the combined use of one or more public clouds plus on-premises private cloud platforms (typically hosted in colocation data centers) has been meteoric. Today, cloud architecture is mainstream. 

According to the 2022 Flexera State of the Cloud report, 92 percent of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy while 80 percent have a hybrid cloud strategy (note that these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive). Interestingly, according to the same report, 56% of respondents say they use more than one private cloud provider.

Cloud migration and the adoption of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments have long been driven by digital transformation initiatives and that isn’t changing. According to Hashicorp’s 2022 survey, digital transformation is a top business driver for multi-cloud deployments.

Use Cases Driving Azure Hybrid Cloud Computing

There are a variety of reasons to deploy Azure hybrid cloud functionality.

The first and most obvious use case for hybrid cloud solutions involving Azure services and private cloud computing is building apps and workflows in Azure that require access to on premises data, services, or SQL databases. In some cases, regulatory and privacy constraints (such as in healthcare) constrain data or workloads from being moved to the cloud.

Another scenario is where DevOps teams are building newer, cloud-native applications ( perhaps using kubernetes) for IoT or machine learning in Azure, while other application teams are maintaining legacy apps deployed on private cloud virtual machines.

Gradual cloud migration of Microsoft-centric applications, deployed on-premises on Windows servers, Azure Stack, or Azure Stack HCI constitutes another major reason for hybrid cloud with Azure cloud services.

Finally, many Microsoft-centric IT teams are in the process of moving on-premises services, data storage, and applications to the SaaS versions hosted in Azure cloud. For example, if an organization has historically utilized active directory functionality for single sign-on, they may choose to use Azure AD going forward. 

The same goes for moving internally hosted applications to Office 365 and Dynamics in Azure cloud. Of course, these migrations don’t necessarily happen overnight, so organizations may stay in hybrid mode for a while, utilizing tools like Azure Arc to manage across the different hosting environments.

Why ExpressRoute?

Once you grow your Azure footprint and usage volume, at a certain point two factors tend to drive moving to ExpressRoute connectivity. 

First is the need for greater performance and scalability than you can achieve with Internet-based connectivity. Internet VPNs are the typical starting point for connecting Azure virtualized environments with on premises infrastructure and vms. But the problem with the Internet is that it doesn’t come with a SLA, and can be highly unpredictable. 

Tunneling traffic incurs a latency tax on traffic that reduces effective throughput, which can harm performance of applications, particularly chatty or transaction apps that are time-sensitive. Furthermore, Internet VPNs have practical limits to their scalability due to the lack of ability to support Jumbo Frames and because of the computing overhead of encapsulation/decapsulation, especially when dealing with secure, encrypted tunnels.

The second factor is cost. Internet-based transport generally has higher egress data fees than private connectivity for cloud providers. As a result, using ExpressRoute private connectivity is more cost-effective when moving significant volumes of data across hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Azure ExpressRoute offers a private, SLA-supported alternative to Internet transport, and is delivered in conjunction with Azure connectivity partners. But not all approaches are equal.

NaaS Offers the Optimal Connectivity Approach

Most traditional telecom approaches to delivering high-speed connectivity require long contracting and provisioning times, because their networks aren’t built to be operated via automation, so calculating network capacity, costs, and turning up services can take weeks to months. This matters because cloud on-ramps, including those for Azure ExpressRoute, are only located in certain colocation data centers. 

That means in many cases, you may need to get a connection from your current colocation data center to the location where the ExpressRoute on-ramp exists. If you’re relying on traditional telco connectivity, you may be waiting a while.

Furthermore, traditional telco connectivity is not built to be consumable in the way the cloud is. Cloud consumption is offered in relatively short segments. But with telco services, you typically need to commit to anywhere from one to three years to get any sort of reasonable pricing.

That’s where Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) comes in. NaaS turns high-speed WAN connectivity into a cloud service. Instead of waiting months and committing for years to get 10 Gbps connections between your colocation data center and your Azure public cloud presence, you can provision in real-time and consume by the month. 

NaaS delivers the agility that you need to maximize the value of Azure hybrid cloud deployments.