The buzz around cloud computing now resonates through every segment of the IT and networking industries. What WAN managers should know is that cloud computing will have a profound impact on corporate networks, particularly wide area network (WAN) performance. In my previous article, I talked about how
As assets in a data center (servers, storage, OS, applications, etc.) become virtualized, the concept of managing those assets moves from deploying hardware and software to optimizing the movement of virtual workloads located in the cloud. (View this learning guide on how to improve application traffic in your cloud computing adoption with WAN optimization controllers.) Compute resources can be increased or decreased for specific tasks on demand simply by pulling them from the cloud. Need more compute power to close your books? No problem, just pull extra resources from the cloud. These resources can also be moved between data centers, making corporate IT more flexible, dynamic and real-time because workloads can be moved to match business policies.
Cloud computing challenges a WAN strategy, however, because enterprise WANs are not designed for this type of dynamic, real-time access and the types of traffic patterns that cloud computing creates. Cloud computing requires low-latency connections between compute centers -- features that aren't typical of legacy WAN connections. There are things that network managers can do, though, to optimize the WAN performance for the impending cloud wave. Enterprises can optimize WAN performance by choosing an advanced WAN service, such as IP VPN or Ethernet, and making a strategic decision on which network operator to use.
Advanced WAN services to improve cloud computing performance
Interconnecting cloud computing centers requires the WAN to act a lot more like a LAN in terms of connectivity and speed. IP VPN and Ethernet services have been positioned to bridge this gap over the past several years. In fact, the speeds of these types of services are already comparable to LANs (for example, a GigaWAN service). The challenge for advanced data services is to emulate data center networks when interconnecting compute centers. Many service providers have started offering Ethernet WAN services that can encapsulate storage networks. There are currently some distance limitations to these types of cloud computing services, but those will be overcome, and it will be possible to make the WAN that interconnects data centers look like a single, flat network architecture.
Choosing the right service provider can optimize cloud computing performance
Enterprise network managers are faced with many choices when it comes to network connectivity services. Many consider network services a commodity, so the ultimate deciding factor winds up being price. With cloud computing, however, this approach to WAN services needs to change.
One strategic decision could be to couple the network connectivity with the cloud computing service. Using the same service provider for cloud service and network connectivity has a few benefits:
- First, bundling the services together will create a cost advantage. Most network operators give significant discounts for bundling.
- Next, if an MPLS service is being used, the operator will be able to map the cloud service into a Class of Service (CoS) and then provide appropriate service-level agreements (SLAs) to ensure optimized WAN performance. Mapping into a CoS can be done even if the cloud and network services come from different service providers, but the SLAs will almost certainly be better when a single provider is used.
- Lastly, all of the traffic will remain on the network, which can significantly reduce latency. Choosing a telco randomly or just using any random Internet provider means that there's no control over where the traffic flows. Having it stay on a single backbone means fewer networks to traverse. Fewer networks mean fewer hops and, ultimately, less latency.
If the preference is to avoid coupling the cloud service with the network service, improvements can still be had by understanding which network service provider your cloud computing vendor of choice uses. Understanding how traffic flows to and from the cloud provider means network managers can choose a network connectivity provider that peers with or directly connects to the cloud provider. This, in turn, will minimize the number of networks crossed.
In summary, while cloud computing poses significant WAN challenges, network managers can significantly improve the chances of success by looking at advanced WAN services and thinking strategically about which network operator to use.
About the author:
Zeus Kerravala manages Yankee Group's infrastructure research and consulting. His areas of expertise involve working with customers to solve their business problems through the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions, including switching, routing, network management, voice solutions and VPNs.
This was first published in July 2010