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Cloud networking services boost public cloud performance sans hardware

Jessica Scarpati

Most enterprises access public cloud services via a best-effort network: the Internet. Wide area network (WAN) managers who want more predictable performance could pay for dedicated links into a cloud provider's data center,

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but that approach negates the agility and cost savings that make cloud computing so appealing. Instead, cloud networking vendors are developing hardware-free services to improve cloud performance over the Internet.

The Internet's impact on cloud performance has influenced the cloud evaluation process of Bob Andreini, global director of IS/IT at Measurement Specialties, a designer and manufacturer of sensors and sensor-based systems. His company has 650 users in China who access an application on Web servers hosted in a Hampton, Va.-based data center. Although those Chinese users are accessing the network via a private WAN link, they have still struggled with latency.  

Andreini is considering migrating some of his applications into the cloud. He has been evaluating Arena Solutions, a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider for bill of material and change management applications. However, given that that his users have struggled with Web applications running a private WAN link, the idea of accessing a SaaS application via the Internet worries him.

"There are certain things we do where we're moving big chunks of data at a time," Andreini said. "[A page response time of] one or two seconds is not too bad. But [users in China wait] 10 to 12 seconds."

Cloud networking services rely on provider's POPs

Andreini is hoping to beta test a new service from Virtela called Cloud Accelerator, which improves performance for public and private cloud-based applications. Previously he has used Virtela's cloud-based application acceleration service for his internally-hosted applications over his private WAN.

"We haven't [adopted public cloud computing] yet -- we've just started talking about it -- but we're definitely [interested in something] for the applications we host internally," he said.

Although enterprises aren't rushing to put everything in the hands of public cloud providers, adoption has been swift, according to Bojan Simic, president and principal analyst at TRAC Research. But WAN managers are struggling to understand how to ensure cloud performance, he said. 

Being able to use cloud-based solutions helps with not having to use one solution just for managing cloud and one for on-premise services.

Bojan Simic
President and Principal Analyst, TRAC Research

"The challenge becomes how to actually manage delivery of these services in a way that’s agnostic of where they're hosted," he said. "I think being able to use cloud-based solutions helps with not having to use one solution just for managing cloud and one for on-premise services. Cloud services are independent of where these services are."

Virtela's Cloud Accelerator service requires no hardware at either end of the connection, according to Virtela CEO B.V. Jagadeesh. Instead, Virtela works with the 500 service providers it partners with to route last-mile traffic to the closest of Virtela's 50 "local cloud centers" around the world. These cloud centers operate as local points of presence (POPs) where software instances of its application accelerators give traffic a speed boost on its way to the cloud, said Mark Weiner, senior vice president of marketing at Virtela.

Virtela also installs and manages a software instance of its application accelerator in its customer's public or private cloud environment, Weiner said. Once the traffic hits the cloud resources, it gets another speed boost for its return trip back to the POP, he said. Virtual accelerators in the POP give the traffic one last speed boost for its final destination -- an enterprise's headquarters and branch offices.

Virtela uses multiple vendors' WAN optimization technology in its cloud centers, but a spokeswoman for the provider declined to identify which specific vendors it uses.

Aryaka Networks has a similar approach to Virtela. The startup cloud networking provider, which characterizes its service as "SaaS-based WAN optimization and application acceleration," uses Internet or private WAN connections for last-mile connectivity before routing traffic throughout its meshed network of POPs running its proprietary WAN optimization software. Its approach is like a private content delivery network (CDN), accounting for availability in addition to proximity, Simic said.

"With Aryaka's distributed points of presence, enterprises can use the Aryaka platform as a secure highway to get closer to their cloud services -- both public and private -- across the world in the easiest way possible," said Sonal Puri, vice president of marketing and sales at Aryaka. "[Using] Aryaka is 20 times faster in accessing Amazon's resources as compared to the Internet."

Unlike Virtela, no software is required at either end. Aryaka recently announced it would offer five classes of Quality of Service (QoS) for its customers.

Optimization: Hardware vs. cloud networking services

Late last year, WAN optimization vendor Riverbed Technology released a new version of its flagship Steelhead line to optimize public cloud performance: Cloud Steelhead. It requires a hardware appliance at the branch, and availability is dependent on Riverbed's approved partnerships with cloud providers; to date, Riverbed has only announced support for Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) and Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) environments.

When evaluating WAN optimization in general, Andreini had considered Riverbed and found its performance to be superior to anything else on the market, including Virtela. But the cost of deployment was out of reach, he said. Measurement Specialties is a relatively small company for the number of branches and users it has, which limits the IT budget, Andreini said. 

Although he has not evaluated Cloud Steelhead, Andreini said he would not be interested in another hardware-centric approach for optimizing cloud performance. The scale of the deployment would not justify the investment, he said.

"We looked at some of the Riverbed stuff and it would've been a fortune because of the number of users and number of sockets," he said. "We only need this for some apps. We don’t need it for everything."

Cloud networking services open up adoption to organizations with large numbers of small branches, where the cost dedicated to hardware and an IT presence cannot be justified, Simic said.

"WAN optimization is becoming more of a competitive differentiator … and for a deployment like that, cloud [networking] is a perfect usage scenario," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.


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