October 2015 – Prepared by Zeus Kerravala

The IT industry has undergone several major shifts since computing became a business resource. The mainframe era gave way to client/server computing, which then ceded its position as the dominant compute model to a branch-centric computing model. Today, the industry sits in the midst of another major computing revolution: the shift to cloud computing.

Each computing era significantly changed the role of the network—and with it the requirements for networking solution providers. Because the client/server era put a premium on local connectivity, enterprises built robust local-area networks (LANs). In this era, almost all enterprise network traffic went from the data center to branch offices; therefore, businesses built large, private wide-area networks (WANs) to connect remote locations. Consequently, businesses chose their service providers based almost exclusively on the size of their network footprint.

Today, cloud computing is the dominant compute model and the fastest-growing segment of enterprise applications (Exhibit 1). Because cloud computing is network centric, the choice of network operator can have a significant impact on the performance of cloud resources. The incumbent service providers have legacy networks that are optimized so that almost all traffic is kept “on net”; a large amount of enterprise traffic can move to and from the cloud and also to external partners or customers. Enterprises need a network that can extend to all locations, cloud providers, telecommuters, external partners and every other part of the extended enterprise.

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