New Tools for the Distributed Data Center

Advances in taking the SDN to the WAN are bringing enterprise data environments closer to the dream of a fully federated, distributed cloud ecosystem.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Nov 21, 2014
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The world has been getting smaller for some time, thanks to advanced communications and modern forms of travel. And the same thing can be said of the enterprise these days, as integrated data architectures spread out over the wide area.

To date, however, much of this functionality is still housed in local resources—that is, mini data centers at the branch that handle much of the data exchange that takes place in higher-level enterprise applications. But as I've highlighted several times in recent columns, software defined architectures make it possible to establish a broad array of data center operations over the long haul, essentially building a single, integrated data infrastructure that spans miles with only minimal infrastructure at the end points.

To do that, though, you'll need to shore up your WAN capabilities, which is why we are seeing a steady flow of advanced, cloud-ready optimization solutions of late.

Nuage Networks, for example, recently unveiled a new SDN platform that extends from the central office to the branch. The Virtualized Network Services (VNS) system matches the long-haul capabilities of Nuage's parent, Alcatel-Lucent, with policy-driven automation and network abstraction to provide seamless connectivity to distant locations. The company claims it can produce a tenfold increase in the speed of network deployments and cut operational costs in half.  The system allows the enterprise to establish a series of templates that oversee workflows and network services for a wide variety of applications, cloud configurations and infrastructure locations, while the automation component provides "error-free" provisioning and service delivery.

Meanwhile, Ciena and Avaya have joined forces to create an end-to-end network architecture designed to improve capacity and network flexibility while increasing control over on-demand network services. The system leverages Avaya's Fabric Connect platform with Ciena's converged packet optical and packet network technologies to enable an overarching network architecture that fosters advanced initiatives like data center consolidation and the hybrid cloud. The idea is to offer full network virtualization and unified management using Ciena technology for the programmable WAN component, while Avaya takes on intelligent Ethernet and IP service delivery in ways that maximize the capacity and capabilities of the underlying transport layer. Ultimately, the goal is to foster broad scalability and network flexibility without introducing latency or inhibiting the user experience in other ways.

The hybrid cloud also seems to be driving the development shop at Riverbed Technology. The company recently launched the Steelhead 9.0 and SteelCentralAppResponse 9.5 components to the Application Performance Platform aimed at enhancing visibility, control and application optimization across on-premises, cloud and SaaS deployments.The platform offers key functions like automated SLA activation and the ability to group applications according to type and business requirements, as well as advanced path selection that enables secure, high-speed connectivity for critical apps. It also offers an integrated Geo IQ module for Office 365 to provide native mailbox access regardless of where the mailbox host or the user are located.

As more functionality is pushed beyond the data center walls, however, it will take more sophisticated management capabilities to keep it all together. Mushroom Networks' Dr. Cahit Akin says this is a perfect opportunity for the enterprise to leverage Big Data for its own use. Not only does Big Data provide the kind of intelligence needed to manage dynamic network activity, but it enables a high level of visibility into resources and infrastructure that would otherwise be hidden. With the right tools and processes in place, this data could then be used to provide instant alerts or fully automated change management to optimize network connections or avoid potential problems before they interfere with the user experience.

To be clear, the idea of a fully federated cloud ecosystem in which any user can access any app at any time is still a work in progress. And even with the most advanced, high-speed network on the planet, it is still hard to envision that such a system would offer the same response time and performance characteristics as local infrastructure.

But that was the knock against centralized server and storage environments as well: that they weren't as fast as accessing the PC motherboard or disk drive. It was the capacity and flexibility of centralized architectures that won people over, and as long as latency and other performance inhibitors can be kept to a minimum, there is no reason to think the knowledge workforce will care whether their data and applications are on the desktop, in the next room, or halfway around the world.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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