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While a mix of on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure grants enterprises more flexibility, one big challenge continues to stand in their way: the hybrid cloud network.
"When businesses decide to move to the cloud, the network tends to be an afterthought," said Joe Skorupa, an analyst at Gartner. And, as traffic grows, companies increasingly discover that their network connections are not robust enough to support their cloud applications.
One of the reasons enterprises overlook the importance of the network in hybrid cloud computing is that network managers generally don't have a seat at the table; instead, the focus is largely on security, cost and rapid development, Skorupa said.
But such thinking can be shortsighted. An inadequate hybrid cloud network negatively affects enterprises, as users grapple with problems like latency and slow response times.
Internet connections vs. point-to-point links
Enterprises generally have two options to build a hybrid cloud network: internet connections or dedicated, point-to-point links.
Public internet connections are widely available, commonly used and inexpensive. The downside is that an enterprise's traffic mixes with other organizations' data, which can slow down performance. Information is routed dynamically, so data can travel in a circuitous manner from the customer site to the cloud provider's data center. If the most direct link is not available, it will take more time to move data from place to place. Also, when an enterprise moves from one link to another that is close to capacity, the data is broken up into smaller pieces, which creates delays.
Point-to-point links in a hybrid cloud network provide direct connections from the user's site to the cloud vendor. Compared to the public internet, these links ensure quick response times and high availability because only the customer's data uses the line.
Brad CasemoreResearch director, IDC
"Direct connections do a good job of minimizing potential problems, like latency and inadequate response time," said Brad Casemore, research director at IDC.
These dedicated links cost more than internet connections, but pricing varies based on location, length of the line and the connection speed. Hybrid cloud workloads that cannot tolerate throughput variations, such as a financial or e-commerce application, often use point-to-point connections.
The hybrid cloud network becomes a priority
While networking has traditionally been an afterthought in cloud discussions -- mostly because enterprises viewed the network only as a back-office function -- change is on its way, according to Gartner. This change is accelerated by the fact that more organizations are moving data off premises, and hybrid cloud network traffic continues to grow.
"Many businesses need more bandwidth to support their cloud services," Casemore said.
To meet demand, public cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, continue to expand their networking services, including options for direct connections.
Public cloud vendors work with network suppliers, such as AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Equinix, Level 3 and Verizon, to offer more private connection options for users. For instance, Azure offers its ExpressRoute service, and Google recently added its Dedicated Interconnect service to provide a faster, more private connection to its public cloud.
In addition, some cloud vendors, such as AWS and IBM, offer physical data transfer appliances. Users can upload data onto these devices and then ship them to their cloud provider, who then uploads that data to the cloud. Like direct connections, these appliances help companies avoid potential latency and performance issues.
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