Is networking infrastructure the Achilles' heel of cloud computing?

The network is a complicated piece of the data center puzzle and can often be a stumbling block for IT pros, although crucial for cloud success.

Regardless of whether you choose Software as a Service, Platform as a Service or Infrastructure as a Service, one thing is unavoidable: You need a good, reliable network to connect to the cloud. The network can easily become a stumbling block, since the cloud drastically alters the role of the network -- and its accompanying hardware and software.

Networking infrastructure and cloud computing

Part 1: Is networking infrastructure the Achilles' heel of cloud computing?

Part 2: Reducing network latency means focusing on location, location, location

Part 3: Networking costs swell pay-per-use public cloud bills

The real Achilles' heel of cloud computing is that many in IT fail to consider the deeper challenges of building a reliable network and only unearth network problems after a migration has been completed.

The success of a public cloud initiative is critically dependent on networking infrastructure, and it's no surprise that IT managers have their share of concerns. How much bandwidth will you need? Will the network be sufficiently reliable for what you have planned? What kind of network will you require for the next five years? These are just some of the questions that a typical company needs to answer when moving to the cloud, particularly to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).

How much network capacity is enough?

One of the most important issues is making sure that you have -- and will continue to have -- enough network capacity for all the different connections to the cloud.

The first order of business is to verify that your public cloud provider has a plan for managing its Internet bandwidth needs. Can your provider upgrade rapidly in response to growth and your own requirements? In other words: Make sure your cloud provider operates in a data center facility that has enough bandwidth connectivity to meet projected growth.

Consider that Amazon is constantly struggling to build Internet capacity into its infrastructure by running its own fiber and building its own Internet exchanges because the carriers are too slow to respond. Smaller cloud providers will struggle with service lead times and cash flow problems that can harm their ability to grow their infrastructures -- and thus your service.

Internet Capacity In Your Network and Cloud Provider

 

So when you're considering a cloud provider, be sure to get assurances about access to a major Internet exchange point (IXP) to ensure the least possible latency. An IXP is a location that acts as a connection point for large numbers of Internet backbone routers and their carriers. Being located close to an IXP reduces the effective distance across the Internet and improves performance.

Once you've determined that your cloud provider's own networks are positioned for growth, the next issue is how much bandwidth you'll need from your own data center to the Internet. Does your existing Internet connection have enough capacity to support fast and smooth access to the cloud service?

Moving services to the cloud is a major change in the use of the Internet gateway for your company and will commonly require increased Internet bandwidth, upgraded firewalls and routers, and possibly upgraded security monitoring and compliance tools.

WAN capacity

 

And don't forget to consider Internet redundancy. As more services come to rely on Internet access, uptime and reliability will become a bigger concern. Consider deploying three or more Internet connections to different providers so that any failure in their networks has less effect on yours.

Equally important to consider is your internal WAN bandwidth. In particular, moving an application into the cloud may not reduce load (or costs) on the corporate WAN if your users continue to access the Internet via a central gateway in the data center or head office. While this maximizes security, improves visibility and implements control, it also increases the WAN costs.

Gartner predicts that in 2014, IT organizations will spend $1.6 trillion on telecom services, representing 44% of the total IT spend. Reducing WAN usage can thus produce big reductions in the bottom-line costs.

One way to reduce WAN costs is by moving branch locations off the WAN and using the virtual private network (VPN) connections over the Internet instead (see figure 2). Replacing expensive WAN circuits with lower-cost Internet services is a popular choice for many companies, but you will need to deploy and manage an encrypted WAN overlay network using IPSec or Secure Sockets Layer VPN.

New technologies like Dynamic Multipoint VPN are simplifying the deployment and operation of large-scale VPN networks that support multiple data centers and cloud providers. This is perfect for replacing the WAN for cloud services.

This was first published in February 2014
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