Ethernet: Connecting the Data Center to the Cloud

Even private clouds often rely on public infrastructure. How can Ethernet address the resulting concerns, and which vendors are on top of the issue?

By Arthur Cole | Posted Oct 18, 2013
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Ask most enterprise executives whether they prefer the public or private cloud, and most will opt for private. After all, what’s not to like about broad scalability, enhanced flexibility, and lower operating costs, all while keeping data tucked safely behind the firewall?

In reality, however, private clouds often increase enterprise reliance on public infrastructure, even for enterprises with no formal plans to become a hybrid shop. Organizations of all stripes must take a hard look at their ability to connect to the public cloud using either the public Internet or private/dedicated wide area solutions.

According to Cisco Systems, cloud network traffic is likely to more than quadruple between 2012 and 2017, from about 1.2 zettabytes per year to more than 5.3 zettabytes. And as things become more automated, machine-to-machine or application-to-application traffic like data replication and backup or software/system updates will make up a growing portion of those zettabytes. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, worldwide network infrastructure is more than capable of handling current and expected workloads well into the future, but that doesn't mean that individual enterprises have sufficient connectivity to maintain reliable cloud services.

In response to this, more dedicated wide-area infrastructure providers are increasing their Ethernet capabilities. As the dominant networking protocol on the enterprise LAN, Ethernet is said to have many attributes that enhance connectivity to the cloud. Ethernet can extend security infrastructure across the wide area and offer greater visibility and management and a more VM-friendly (read: scalable) networking environment. With an end-to-end Ethernet infrastructure between disparate data centers and cloud providers, the enterprise would essentially function like a giant, globally dispersed data ecosystem. This is part of the reason why IDC expects Ethernet revenue to jump from $6.2 billion today to more than $10 billion by 2016.

Level 3 Communications, for example, recently launched a number of new services in its Cloud Connect Solutions porfolio. Those new services include Ethernet Virtual Private Line and Ethernet Private Line and Wavelength services. The company aims to increase its cloud connectivity capabilities using a combination of fiber-based, low-latency routing, enhanced access and security capabilities, and end-to-end control, all while providing dynamic bandwidth allocation and flexible service bundling packages. In this way, the company says it can more easily integrate the cloud into enterprise infrastructure, rather than force the enterprise to do the opposite.

And depending on where the enterprise is based, local cable companies may make cloud-ready Ethernet services available. Leading providers are well aware of their ability to deliver a wide range of professional-grade networking services on top of their video delivery infrastructure,. For them, connecting businesses to the cloud is almost a no-brainer. Comcast, for one, offers Comcast Business Ethernet Services, enabling enterprises and cloud providers to extend Ethernet connectivity over the long haul through tools like Ethernet Dedicated Internet, Ethernet Private Line, and Ethernet Virtual Private Line. The package can be tailored to point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, and multipoint-to-multipoint architectures.

Cloud or no cloud, the enterprise is becoming increasingly dependent on third-party infrastructure, with some organizations already pushing mission-critical applications and data onto the wide area. As that trend continues, network reliability will emerge as a top priority, overshadowing scalability, flexibility and perhaps even cost concerns. Ethernet between the data center and the cloud will not be an absolute necessity, but it certainly can make things a whole lot easier.

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