Outlook 2022: Data Fabrics, Network Automation, and Clouds Galore

This year has been momentous for PacketFabric. Towards the beginning of the year, we released our multi award-winning Cloud Router that leads the industry in 100 Gbps performance and scalability for on-demand multi-cloud connectivity. By mid-year, our Network-as-a-Service platform surpassed 50T of global backbone capacity. And towards the end of the year, we acquired RSTOR, a leading provider of cloud storage and data-mobility-as-a-service solutions. So with those accomplishments in mind, it’s time to look at what we see coming for the industry in 2022.

Data Fabrics Get More Real

One of the biggest challenges in a hybrid data center architecture is efficiently managing the explosion of data across a distributed infrastructure architecture. The notion of a data fabric has arisen to meet this challenge by creating a more automated data management approach that utilizes analytics on metadata such as who is using the data, types of use, and use patterns. Data fabrics ideally allow organizations to store, move, and organize data such that it reaches the right users, with the right performance, at the right cost. In its essence, a data fabric is realized through software that operates agnostically to the underlying platforms and infrastructure architecture. We’ll see more software solutions that address intelligent data movement in 2022.

Better Connectivity Needed

Yet to fully achieve this compelling vision also requires far more from underlying infrastructure. Here’s what I mean. First of all, a fabric implies that there’s connectivity to move data, but the sad truth is that in a hybrid and multi-cloud world, the WAN is a major friction point (or tear/rip/knot?) in the fabric. Internet overlays are highly limited in terms of scale and performance, impose sometimes punishing egress fees from cloud providers, and are simply not secure or reliable enough to act as data center interconnection solutions for enterprise-scale data movement.

Traditional telco connections are slow to provision and come burdened with inflexible contracts that are typically 1-3 years in duration. If you need to move 30 petabytes of data to a cloud provider to power analytics workloads, you want that to happen a lot faster then 3 years (which is how long it will take over Internet tunnels), and you don’t want to wait months just to get connectivity, then finish the job and keep paying for the network for a long time afterwards. In short, private connectivity needs to be much more nimble to provide the connection threads that allow data fabrics to do their job properly.

The good news is that the WAN is becoming like the cloud. Today, you can get private, optical network-based 100Gbps interconnections across hundreds of colocation data centers and cloud provider on-ramps in minutes, and pay by the month or even by the hour in some cases. You can even get inter-region and multi-cloud connections up to 100 Gbps without any physical networking needed via distributed Cloud Routing. This level of network scale and agility makes the promise of data fabrics far more real. In 2022, we’ll see a lot more enterprises take advantage of on-demand private WAN connections.

More Enterprise-Grade Cloud Storage Choices Needed

There is also the matter of enabling enterprises to choose cloud-based storage that meets the functional and cost requirements of various use cases. It’s all well and good to be able to make more automated decisions about where to move data, but if your choices are limited to predictable cost but hard-to-scale private cloud vs hyper-scalable yet unpredictable and costly cloud storage, you’re missing important options.

The in-between option has been missing–most of the predictable cost cloud storage options have not been enterprise grade. But that is changing, and in 2022 we’ll see more enterprise-class cloud storage choices that offer predictable cost models. Of course, I’m speaking with a bias because we’re already there via our acquisition of RSTOR, but look also at announcements like Cloudflare R2 object storage as a sign of more market choices, which is a good thing for enterprises that are building out data fabrics.

The combination of private on-demand WAN connectivity and expanded cloud storage options will enable data fabrics to weave greater value for enterprises in 2022.

Network Automation — Closer to the Grail

The holy grail, that elusive and mystical artifact of lore, that brave knights searched and died looking for in vain. That’s what it can feel like when talking about network automation. For years, you could go to a state of the network session at the Gartner Infrastructure Operations and Cloud Strategies (IOCS) summit and experience deja vu when the survey results about CLI vs network automation use in the enterprise were shared.

There’s still a lot of ground to be made, but SD-WAN, SASE and modern private middle mile Network-as-a-Service offerings are changing the way that enterprises build their WANS and moving network teams closer to the grail of network automation. SD-WANs and SASE, particularly when offered as a service, simplify WAN automation for branch and remote worker connectivity to data center and cloud applications. While most SD-WAN implementations still operate on fairly simple policies and business logic, they nonetheless advance network automation significantly. And more automation is coming with deeper network and application visibility being integrated with SD-WAN and SASE offerings, such as we’ve seen from Cisco’s acquisition of ThousandEyes.

Middle mile providers (like PacketFabric) are automating connectivity for the hybrid and multi-cloud core—where the truly mission-critical application and data work streams are flowing at scale. Via our portal or API, you can make private WAN connections between global colocation data centers, and providers like AWS, Azure, GCP, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, and Webex happen in minutes. Compare that to the weeks and months needed to negotiate and provision a telco-style private WAN connection, and the automation impact is immediately apparent.

The combination of SD-WAN, SASE and middle-mile connectivity brings automated, agile connectivity even more powerfully. Enterprises are hungering to increase the operational efficiency of their networks. For example, we’ve seen a tremendous response to a holiday season SD-WAN and cloud connectivity assessment that we offered with our partner ngena.

Clouds Galore

Depending on where you live in the world, cloud adoption can feel like either old hat or relatively new. Be that as it may, suffice it to say that the major cloud providers and endless profusion of SaaS players have established that cloud is here to stay. But not just one cloud. To reference Hashicorp’s 2021 State of Cloud Strategy title, we are living in “The Multi-Cloud Era.”

Here’s how multi-cloud happens. Enterprises choose at least one public cloud provider as the anchor cloud tenancy of their hybrid cloud strategy. Then, a specific use case, M&A, or new line of business drives a decision to use another cloud provider for best-of-breed reasons. Then, a major customer or business partner may request or require doing mutual work in another cloud provider. And so on. Even a few years ago, when I would speak to enterprise IT executives, they would all comment that multi-cloud had already happened, far ahead of any planning. Now, multi-cloud is just the ground reality.

But don’t think that multi-cloud ends at the hyperscalers. As enterprises evolve their IT infrastructures in the cloud era, they are looking not just to migrate to the cloud, but to mature and optimize what types of clouds they use. Colocation data centers are growing rapidly in use by enterprises to replace home-grown data center facilities, to repatriate certain workloads from hyperscalers, and to act as network edges and edge computing locations for digital operations.

Enterprises are also including more independent cloud providers like Hivelocity, Linode, and Vultr in their architectures to complement their public cloud provider footprints. Indie clouds offer cost-effective solutions for use cases where all the bells, whistles (and pricing intricacies) of public cloud services aren’t required. Add cloud storage and backup/disaster recovery clouds, and you have an expanding definition of what multi-cloud will mean in 2022 and beyond.

Up-Level Your Connectivity Game for 2022

If the above trends are making you think about how to plan for 2022, let’s talk. Connecting all your data centers, clouds, Internet Exchange and other key infrastructure components into a cogent, high-performing, and agile cloud core is exactly where PacketFabric fits. Request a demo and we’ll help you understand how to build a WAN that is consumed like the cloud, advances your network automation, supports your data fabric, and makes your entire IT architecture more responsive to the needs of your business and customers.