Network Challenges and Solutions in the Cloud

Hybrid and multi-cloud environments make networking more challenging, but solutions designed to overcome those challenges could ultimately make all networks more efficient.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Jun 13, 2017
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Enterprise infrastructure is becoming more distributed – across the cloud, across co-located facilities and across remote sites and branch offices. This naturally produces a more challenging network environment than a traditional data center setting. But with the right mix of technologies, it can still provide optimal service for the bulk of the enterprise workload.

Speed, of course, is a top consideration for all data networks. However, in today’s virtual, software-defined world, flexibility and programmability are gaining in stature, driven primarily by the need for a single network topology to cater to multiple, disparate needs.

The main challenge in the cloud, says CIO’s Anant Jhingran, is distance. Regardless of how virtualized the infrastructure, at some point it has to reside on physical machines. The more separation between these machines, the longer it takes to exchange data.

But while this fact is incontrovertible, it is not the end of the story. Pushing management and analytics to the cloud while keeping application backends and APIs at home is a recipe for latency, but simply employing a lightweight, federated cloud gateway allows API runtimes to remain in the datacenter while analytics can be asynchronously pushed to a managed service provider (MSP).

Many providers, in fact, are quickly deploying advanced fabric technologies to enable seamless connectivity between client data centers and multiple cloud facilities. QTS Realty Trust recently launched a new SDN platform powered by PacketFabric designed to provide distributed Ethernet services for hybrid cloud environments. The system allows users to provision terabits of network capacity instantly between any facility that is connected to the fabric. At the same time, it allows multiple network configurations to be designed and deployed via a custom API and a web-based portal that also provides visibility and control over traffic and services. The fabric will initially connect QTS centers in Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia and Florida.

Still, it’s safe to assume that few enterprises will confine themselves to a single provider for their hybrid cloud deployments, which means existing hub-and-spoke networking models are not likely to thrive as data loads scale. A company called Console Connect is devising a new way to overcome long-distance bottlenecks by enabling direct connections between IT assets that bypass the public Internet. The CloudNexus system provides “any-to-any” connectivity and advanced automation to support rapid migration and high degrees of workload mobility. The system is datacenter-neutral, allowing users to establish connections between providers of their choice.

Dynamic networking is only marginally affective without matching dynamism in compute and storage infrastructure, however. Heavy Reading’s Sandra O’Boyle pointed out recently that a more flexible, holistic storage environment consisting of flash media, hyperconverged hardware and service-level functionality can improve latency, bandwidth, IOPS and other factors on the network. As well, the enterprise will be better able to integrate storage and network management stacks to support resource aggregation and dynamic provisioning across distributed architectures, usually through a template-optimized deployment system in which services, resource relationships and other elements are pre-defined for rapid implementation.

It seems, then, that the cloud introduces a number of new challenges to networking, but by the same token offers innovative ways to address them as well. With increased complexity masked by ever-more esoteric layers of abstraction and automation, the enterprise may very soon shed its concerns over the physical limitations of boxes and wires to concentrate solely on performance and results.

After all the years of fear, uncertainty and doubt over the cloud, it would certainly be ironic if that same mindset suddenly started to plague traditional data architectures instead.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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