Integrating a new network after an acquisition can be a sizable headache for any CIO. But for Koch Industries, a $125 billion global conglomerate that has acquired five companies in two years, including Infor for $13 billion in 2020, connecting those acquisitions\u2019 networks to its own sprawling network has been a challenge of another magnitude.\n\nTraditionally, to integrate its acquisitions, Koch would flatten the acquired company\u2019s core network, says Matt Hoag, CTO of business solutions at Koch. While this approach makes connecting the network easier, it is a slow, arduous endeavor that gets more complex as more companies are acquired, he says.\n\nMoreover, Koch itself is in the middle of a digital transformation that adds cloud networking to the mix, further complicating the challenge. Cloud networking comprises three layers: first from on-premises data centers to the cloud, then within a cloud that has multiple accounts or virtual private clouds, and finally, between individual clouds in a multicloud environment. It\u2019s more complicated than standard networking, Hoag says.\n\n\u201cCloud deployments typically come in the form of multiple accounts, including multiple LAN segments that need to be connected. This encompasses not only VMs but also many other services offered by the cloud provider,\u201d he says.\n\nThe major tasks involved range from deploying core IP routing, to enabling connections among virtual workloads within a multitenant cloud, to connecting multiple clouds, to ensuring remote users can connect to the company\u2019s cloud estate. It\u2019s the kind of challenge few, if any, enterprises can take on without a partner today, analysts contend.\n\nLaying the foundation\n\nKoch Industries began its migration to Amazon Web Services in 2015, when it also started on the first layer of its cloud networking strategy.\n\nLeased lines and direct connects would remain in the data center as part of this strategy, but Hoag did not want to route users through the data center to access data on the cloud. Instead, Koch\u2019s engineering team set about virtualizing the physical transports to build the SD-LAN and firewall within the cloud rather than in the data center.\n\nThe company invested a hefty amount of time \u2014 roughly 18 months \u2014 and engineering resources just to bring on-premises networking to the cloud. \u201cIt was more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be in the early days,\u201d Hoag says.\n\nFor the second two layers of Koch\u2019s cloud network infrastructure, Hoag partnered up with a specialist.\n\nIDC analyst Brad Casemore notes that there are several multicloud networking suppliers, including Aviatrix, Alkira, F5 Networks, and Prosimo, as well as established datacenter SDN suppliers such as VMware, Cisco, and Juniper. Co-location providers that offer interconnection-oriented architectures \u2014 such as Equinix, Digital Realty, and CoreSite \u2014 partner with many of these suppliers.\n\nHoag brought in Alkira to help tackle the challenge.\n\nWhen building out one portion of a transport construct, the CTO recalls an \u2018aha\u2019 moment that he had one afternoon in a conference room in Reno, Nev., with Alkira: Using a third-party platform to handle the abstraction of networking into a software service would vastly reduce the complexity for his own IT team.\n\nAlkira\u2019s network segmentation and resource sharing approach would enable Koch to unify its on-premises and multicloud networks with a few clicks of the mouse, Hoag says. So his team set about migrating the first layer of cloud networking it built from scratch to work within Alkira\u2019s platform.\n\n\u201cPrior to Alkira, anytime we acquired a new company, it would take 12 to 24 months to integrate their network due to the massive complexity,\u201d Hoag says. \u201cNow, we can set policy and have the entire network abide within 24 hours.\u201d\n\nModernizing the network\n\nHybrid and multicloud networking, such as Koch\u2019s, represents the next level of cloud maturity, says IDC\u2019s Casemore, who adds that it\u2019s a category in which most enterprises are woefully behind.\n\n\u201cWhile compute and storage infrastructure have largely aligned with cloud principles and the needs of multicloud environments,\u201d Casemore says, \u201cthe network has not kept pace. \u201d\n\nFor Casemore, network modernization is indispensable to multicloud success: \u201cEnterprises often are not fully cognizant of their networks\u2019 multicloud deficiencies and limitations until they experience them firsthand. By then, the network\u2019s inability to accommodate new requirements has often compromised the realization of an organization\u2019s digital business strategy,\u201d he says.\n\nHere, Hoag says, partnering can be beneficial, as third-party specialists such as Alkira have a deep understanding of cloud providers\u2019 obscure but significant technical differences. Working with a partner can also vastly reduce maintenance and troubleshooting, Hoag says, adding that to date Koch is enjoying similar data transfer speeds in all three layers of its cloud networking architecture.\n\nKoch\u2019s partnership with Alkira has also enabled the CTO to build up his team\u2019s cloud networking skills.\n\n\u201cThere is a talent war going on,\u201d Hoag says. \u201cThis helps us move our team up the talent chain so they can focus on working with applications teams in the company and produce much better business outcomes.\u201d\n\nEnterprise Management Associates analyst Shamus McGillicuddy agrees that most enterprise CIOs will need to tap a specialist to achieve seamless cloud networking \u2014 one of the final phases of their digital infrastructure.\n\n\u201cBuilding a network across multiple cloud providers and one or more private data centers is too complex because network and security teams have to use different tools depending on which cloud or data center they\u2019re working with,\u201d McGillicuddy says. \u201cThis solution is an overlay that removes this complexity.\u201d\n\nBy abstracting the various networking and security features different cloud providers offer, enterprises \u201ccan manage everything from one place, with one set of design parameters, one set of network and security policies, and one console for operational monitoring and management,\u201d he says.\n\nOne day, setting up cloud networking may be as easy as using a credit card to set up a cloud instance, Hoag says. But not now. \u201cWhen you start to have the kind of user needs to potentially have connectivity between different clouds, that\u2019s more difficult,\u201d the CTO says.