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Whether it's for security or predictability, a dedicated network is a must for many enterprises using public cloud -- even if it's not the best solution.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Compute Engine and Windows Azure all offer some form of a dedicated network. Amazon led the way three years ago with Direct Connect and Microsoft followed suit this May with ExpressRoute. Google, with a renewed push for enterprise customers, introduced Cloud Interconnect in November.
"Part of it is psychology, but [these tools] are very important to the enterprises," said James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Inc., a research firm in Cambridge, Mass. "They have a history of buying MPLS lines and private links, so to them this is familiar."
For Condé Nast, a New York-based media company that uses AWS' Virtual Private Cloud, it's all about predictability, said Malik Zegdi, senior vice president of technology operations.
"You have a line that carries only your traffic, so you know how long it takes to transfer a terabyte of data," Zegdi said. "If the Internet has bad day, guess what? It's going to take a long time, but when you have a direct connection it's predictable."
Paul Hastings LLP, a law firm based in Los Angeles, uses Direct Connect to link with Simple Storage Service and Elastic Compute Cloud instances. That connection is helpful. ExpressRoute could potentially be critical for the firm, which is a Microsoft shop, according to Searl Tate, director of network engineering for Paul Hastings.
"There's a lot more alike than different between [Direct Connect and ExpressRoute], but the big difference is we're a Microsoft shop," Tate said. "It's going to be really wonderful and more of a need to have. That's been one of my barriers to [Microsoft's] cloud is having that high-speed connectivity."
These private networks don't always come cheap, however.
Microsoft's starting port speed of 10 Mbps via network service providers costs $436 per month, while its exchange provider option starts at 200 Mbps and costs $145 per month. Amazon charges $0.03 per hour for the bottom-end 50 Mbps. Google only charges for data transfers -- a category the other two vendors offers in addition to the port rate.
Despite the costs, these types of tools are table stakes for many enterprises, and "any number will not traverse the Internet with their data. It's a hard line in the sand," said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research, LLC, based in New York.
Familiarity not always the best bet
While the public Internet isn't the ideal way to transfer data and get predictable speeds, security concerns shouldn't necessarily be a rationale for using these private networks, analysts said.
Companies three or four years ago that wouldn't have considered cloud are very much interested in private cloud, said David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based cloud consultancy firm. When that's not cost-effective they insist on a secure pipe into public cloud, even when it's not essential.
"It becomes a way to sell IT into the system," Linthicum said.
These connections aren't typically best practices, whether it's a legal, compliance or security justification, Linthicum said. Moreover, data can be encrypted over the public Internet, while vulnerabilities can exist in much more expensive private networks.
"Don't focus on the mechanisms, focus on the approach," Linthicum said. "Identity management, advanced encryption -- all these things are available tools. If you focus on physical infrastructure as the way to get to security, I think that's a false sense of security."
In many instances a VPN or SSL over the public Internet would work just fine, but many cloud fears persist, Staten said.
"It's really hard to convince someone that's convinced no matter what they do to protect data over the Internet, somebody isn't going to steal it," Staten said.
Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at email@example.com.