Network Management in a Cloud Universe
The most fundamental way in which the cloud is shaking up data center infrastructure is how it alters the relative value of its three central components: computing, storage and networking.
Storage and compute enjoy unlimited scalability
I've mentioned before that in the cloud, both computing and storage enjoy unlimited scalability. CIOs need no longer worry about provisioning enough of these resources because they are always available at a moment's notice should the need arise. Networking is finite, however. When it comes to getting all that data from the cloud or internal resources to the user and back again, success or failure will depend primarily on your own networking capabilities.
But how is the enterprise to manage and monitor infrastructure that is beyond its direct control? Once data crosses the firewall, aren't all bets off when it comes to throughput, handling, security and general integrity? Not exactly. In fact, the enterprise has a lot more control over the wider data infrastructure than it seems.
Part of this is the result of new classes of cloud services from leading telecom operators. NTT Communications Corp., for example, has added OpenFlow network virtualization to its new Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering, providing greater control over long-haul networks that connect disparate data centers. The setup provides enterprises with tools like customized control of server, storage and network resources, including virtual firewalls and load balancing, as well as real-time systems and change management. The service will initially come online in Japan, with expansion to the U.S., U.K., Australia and elsewhere by next spring.
At the same time, companies like Cisco Systems are attempting to extend the same kind of management and control available on their internal data center platforms to the cloud. The company has linked its Cloud Services Router, AppNav WAN optimization platform and ISR G2 branch router under its Cloud Connected Solutions portfolio, offering a unified management platform for internal and external infrastructure.
Spinning up resources in the cloud
The idea is to make it as easy, and secure, to spin up resources in the cloud as it is to connect the home office to a branch. At the same time, application latency and service levels in the cloud remain on par with traditional infrastructure because visibility and connectivity are carried out under the same platform.
In part, this is a result of the growing recognition that in the cloud, management of actual physical infrastructure is not as important as monitoring and maintaining application performance. With dynamic load balancing and a wide variety of systems and service at your disposal, poor performance is simply a matter of moving data and applications around rather than identifying and repair trouble spots. As Steve Tack, CTO of Compuware put it recently:
"Users expect performance, period. What is needed is an Application Performance Management solution that provides an at-a-glance view of the entire breadth of the application delivery chain from the data center and cloud to the end-users' clicks, in real-time. This is what allows businesses to see when discrete elements of the application infrastructure are causing problems or are prone to create issues under greater traffic loads. With this insight throughout the application lifecycle, adjustments can be made in response to any issues that are identified -- before they impact performance."
Complicating matters, though, is that other major trend affecting enterprise infrastructure: mobile computing. As networks scale up to handle increased traffic, cloud architectures will invariably come into play, which means mobile management platforms must quickly learn to traverse local and wide area environments.
Adtran and BYOD
Adtran is moving in this direction with its BYOD Network Suite that combines its line of Ethernet routers and switches with virtual, cloud-based technology to improve the scalability and flexibility of mobile infrastructure. The system combines the company's Bluesocket virtual wireless LAN platform with a unified wired/wireless management stack to provide a consistent user experience across devices and network infrastructure. It also incorporates tools like RapidRoute traffic management and intelligent edge security that enable highly secure, high-speed functionality.
Clearly, networks will matter more than ever on the cloud, but managers will need to adopt a different mindset when it comes to management and maintenance. Much of this new infrastructure will be beyond your control, but the tools and technology to ensure that system failures do not hamper vital operations are already in place.
The cloud may be the wild west, but the sheriff is already in town.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.