Prepare Your Network for Private and Hybrid Cloud

Private and hybrid cloud deployments demand solid network fundamentals to pave the way for SDN.

By  | Posted May 14, 2014
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By Brendan Hayes

Editor's Note: Occasionally, Enterprise Networking Planet is proud to run guest posts from authors in the field. Today, Brendan Hayes of Juniper Networks discusses the network fundamentals every enterprise needs for successful private and hybrid cloud deployments.

You’ve read all about it, heard all the water cooler chatter: the cloud, along with its services and technologies, promises to make your IT infrastructure more agile, flexible and elastic. You’re ready to take the plunge.

So what technology do you look at first? Server automation tools? Hypervisors? Chances are, you didn't put the network at the top of your list.

But you should. According to a recent study, over 70 percent of enterprises who have adopted hybrid clouds had to also upgrade their networks.

The importance of the network to private and hybrid cloud deployments

While it’s true that factors like server automation and hypervisors are essential to enabling a private or hybrid cloud, any cloud is only as good as the network used to access it and the network within it. If latency, congestion or network downtime slows or brings down your cloud, say goodbye to any benefits you thought you’d have. Similarly, if the network within your private cloud experiences any issues, rest assured you’ll hear about it from employees who can’t access their resources. And of course the network has to be capable of seamlessly connecting your private cloud with any public cloud resources or services the organization is using.

Juniper Networks recently commissioned Forrester Research to conduct a survey of IT decision-makers to determine the most important aspects of deploying private and hybrid cloud capabilities within their organization. We polled them to find out what changes they had to make to their networks, if any, and what challenges they faced along the way.

Some of the results may be surprising. For example, one of the first questions asked of the subjects was whether they had to make changes to their networks to support their hybrid cloud strategies.  Below is the result.

Network changes for private and hybrid cloud

73 percent of respondents indicated they had to change their network infrastructure to support their rollout of private or hybrid clouds. That means these decision-makers realized how critical the network is to their cloud strategy.

However, this leads to a surprising data point: what changes were important to enabling hybrid cloud. When most people think of the cloud, they think of its key attributes. The cloud is elastic, flexible and consumption-based. Naturally, one might expect that IT buyers would consider these attributes first when making changes to their network. Forrester’s survey shows that this isn’t the case.

Forrester asked respondents to rate the impact specific network features or characteristics would have on creating a hybrid cloud. The results are shown in the chart below.

Impact of private and hybrid cloud on aspects of the network

It’s interesting to note that network automation and virtualization, which are absolutely critical to creating a cloud and enabling its elasticity and flexibility, rank below the four network fundamentals: security, bandwidth, performance and reliability. This underscores my earlier point. Your cloud is only as good as the network that supports it. These IT decision-makers recognized the need to ensure a reliable, secure, high-performance network before beginning the journey to the cloud.

How to optimize your network for private and hybrid clouds

Some of the strategies that make a network perform well include a simple architecture that doesn’t introduce unnecessary complexity; a solid foundation of core routing; and switching elements that are purpose-built for their desired function but leverage a common set of building blocks and protocols. From a security perspective, meanwhile, it’s important to consider both the physical and the virtual security as well as layers of security at different levels of the network. And reliability is one reason you should pick networking solutions designed to deliver carrier-class levels of uptime.

Only after you have this solid network foundation can you begin looking at automating the network—making it programmable—so that it can respond to the dynamic and elastic demands of a cloud environment. Automation and programmability are important because of the key cloud attributes discussed earlier. Namely, clouds are flexible, elastic, and consumption-based. For the network to enable the cloud, it needs to be able to provide these same characteristics. This can only be done by automating many steps of the network provisioning and management process. Enterprises can accomplish this in a number of different ways: integration with existing IT automation management tools like Puppet and Chef; orchestration platforms like OpenStack and CloudStack; and/or through software-defined networking (SDN) technologies.

Automation, virtualization, and SDN for private and hybrid clouds

This is a key transition point. Many solutions are capable of delivering the network fundamentals listed above, yet lack the programmability and openness needed to enable automation.

Let’s consider some concrete examples that illustrate different steps on a typical organization’s journey to the cloud. For example, as you move from a mostly bare-metal, non-virtualized data center to a predominantly virtualized environment, can your network keep pace? Connecting virtual endpoints versus physical devices places different demands on the network. Or what happens when you decide to branch out from a single hypervisor to a heterogeneous environment? Can your network seamlessly connect the two?

Then there's the SDN evolution and the new types of control plane protocols and overlay networks associated with it. If your network doesn’t have openness, automation and programmability built in from the beginning, you could face a disruptive upgrade cycle at each step.

That’s why investment protection and openness should also be key selection criteria. Openness because you want the flexibility to implement the cloud technologies of your choice without worrying about interoperability issues with the network. Certain vendors have a history of non-disruptive, evolutionary upgrade cycles; with others, you'll find a history of more disruptive cycles.

As a bit of an aside, I want to address the fact that the chart above depicts SDN at the bottom of the list. I believe this represents buyer confusion and uncertainty around SDN more than anything else. SDN, after all, is simply a way to automate network virtualization in the cloud (and elsewhere). Given that automation and virtualization rank near the top of the list, I can only assume it means people are not making this connection and that the industry needs to do a better job of articulating the value of SDN.

To summarize, before beginning a journey to the cloud, you must ensure that the network has a level of performance, reliability and security that you’re willing to bet your business on. At the same, you must ensure that the network has been built with the openness and flexibility that will make it capable of making the journey with you.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, but remember: according to Forrester's research, 73 percent of buyers had to make changes to their network. But 22 percent didn't.

What's so special about that 22 percent?

Clearly these respondents took the long view when building out their network. They picked a solution that provided security, performance, and availability. Most importantly, they planned for the agility and openness required to deliver investment protection as the IT infrastructure evolves to a cloud-enabled model.

So as you begin your journey to the cloud, or even if you are just considering it, I suggest you pick your network infrastructure solution with the goal of being in that 22 percent. Plan to deliver the security, performance and capacity to meet the increased bandwidth demands you'll see after migrating applications and data to the cloud.

However, in the cloud era that’s only the start. These network fundamentals are table stakes. To ensure your network can make the transition to private and hybrid cloud, it also needs to be agile, elastic and increasingly automated. In short, the cloud creates a new set of demands for the network. If your network has all of these attributes baked in, you can be a part of the minority who were able to make a painless transition to the cloud.

If not, there may be a forklift in your future.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock. Other photos courtesy of Juniper Networks.

Brendan Hayes, Juniper NetworksBrendan Hayes is a senior product marketing manager responsible for Juniper's cloud solution portfolio. Brendan has been with Juniper since 2005, where he has played a key role in bringing to market some of the company’s most successful and innovative new products and solutions. Mr. Hayes has nearly 15 years of experience in the networking industry.

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