Modern Networking in the Digital World

Lori MacVittie Miniature
Lori MacVittie
Published April 27, 2023

Since the turn of the century (I will never get tired of saying that) networking has been increasingly commodified. Consider the prevalent use of “routers” in home networking to provide nearly plug-and-play connectivity for the estimated 15.14 smart devices per home.

The networking is the same, good old layer 2-3 IP-based connectivity we all know and love. It’s so standardized and predictable that vendors can build black boxes that make it possible for even the least technical user to get them and all their gadgets online.

But that’s a single environment. Throw in some public cloud and, increasingly, edge and it isn’t so simple.

To make the not simple even less simple, add in the need to support application connectivity across all those environments and you’ve got the makings of a complex system that frustrates even the most seasoned network professional.

Now, the standard network stuff is, well standard, and most networking pros are more than capable of managing to pass packets from core to cloud to edge and back. But when you throw application layer connectivity atop that, it gets more difficult.

The thing is that in a modern, digital world, networking should, by default, include those connectivity layers. The “network” is seven layers, after all, not just the two that are highly standardized and governed by well-defined protocols. That means the transport (layer 4) and application (layer 7) layers MUST—as in RFC MUST—be included when we talk about networking in a hybrid and multi-cloud environment.

App delivery and security operate at those upper layers. It’s what the technologies are designed to optimize and secure. So, if you’re trying to connect apps across properties, you need to think about the entire networking stack, from IP to TCP to HTTP. You need to include app delivery and security in the process of setting up “the network” because they are, by definition, part of “the network.”

For years, We (that’s the corporate we) have made the distinctions between traditional and modern applications. This distinction is necessary because of the unique connectivity and architectural needs of mobile and microservices-based applications. So maybe it’s time that we make the same distinction on the network side. Traditional networking is about L2 and L3. Modern networking incorporates L4 through L7.

Unfortunately, “full stack” anything is an elusive goal to reach these days. Full stack visibility, full stack developers, full stack networking. We see this in the current marketspace for zero trust, where the focus is really on zero trust networking rather than a fully functional zero trust architecture.

And that’s partially because the upper layers of the “network” are more fluid, dynamic, and harder to deliver and secure.

Offering multi-cloud networking that only addresses the complexity of L2-3 or even L2-4 is insufficient. It fails to address the really hard part of networking, which is at L7. That’s why We believe that traditional networking approaches don’t actually solve the complexity challenges associated with operating in a multi-cloud model.

Multi-cloud networking MUST include the entire stack if it’s going to relieve the headaches of trying to operate the distributed apps and digital services that define the digital world.