Cloud and the Case for Network Value

Cloud services have fundamentally changed how organisations determine whether to invest in the network.

At once, cloud services have done two things:

  1. They have made the network the most important link between users and applications, by moving data storage and compute resources off-site to a remote data centre.
  2. They have also diverted the majority of attention away from the network and towards those very data centres, often focused on the compute resources within and the many new developments around virtualisation, containerisation and other exciting areas.

This is an interesting combination. At the same time as the network increases in importance for delivering applications to users, a range of applications growing by the day including those once thought critical to keep onsite; it also becomes less important, in the sense that it is often seen as a given, a solved problem, with the interesting bits now being in the data centre where all the cool new stuff lives.

Sure, there are many deep discussions around data centre networking on a regular basis, and how to solve the challenges brought to the forefront by the growth of the cloud and its impact on the data centre. But that is just one part of the network spanning from application to end user.

Often ignored are two perhaps less exciting but equally important areas of the network:

  1. The Wide Area Network (WAN) stretching from your service provider’s core network all the way to your doorstep. Your gateway to the internet, and your lovely cloud applications and services.
  2. And the enterprise network, as it’s often called, the one that picks up where your service provider left off and connects everyone inside your building or campus to that WAN connection, and ultimately to the internet and the applications running in that remote cloud data centre.

Are either of these really solved challenges, not worth considering anymore in the new context of cloud services? Or are they festering problems, waiting to sabotage progress made in the data centre?

The answer to these questions really depends on which organisation you look at. Many have paid close attention to both of these areas and by the time of their own switch to cloud applications, were well prepared. But, this isn’t everyone. Consider these two examples:

An organisation whose enterprise network hasn’t been updated for 10 years and is still based on an east-west traffic model, where the vast majority of network traffic remains on their local network with devices talking to locally-operated applications and services, can be in for a rude awakening when they decide to shift these same applications to the cloud, and are now faced with a very different traffic pattern than their network was designed to handle. The result? A bad user experience.

There’s also the organisation who hasn’t considered the impact on their WAN. This might not just be in terms of total WAN bandwidth, but as applications are moved to the cloud which require large volumes of data to be moved, such as backup, diversification of WAN connections is another thing to consider.

Whilst time-sensitive traffic can go over the high-availability, high-price circuit, lower-priority tasks such as data backup can run over a secondary connection, providing more bandwidth but without the service agreements from the WAN provider for uptime, latency and consistent throughput. Otherwise, what’s the result? A very high bill from your service provider for all that bulk data over the high-price circuit.

As these two examples show, everything can be done right in the data centre and in the cloud, but without considering the whole network path from end-to-end, it’s easy to hamstring the entire effort. Whether it’s inadequate network resources creating a bad user experience, or the use of expensive WAN connections burning money on low-priority bulk data applications, there’s more to the cloud than the shiny bits we read about so often today.

As with any network design, let’s consider cloud deployment from end-to-end, and treat the network with the importance it deserves when we are delivering applications over it, with more dependency on the network than ever before.

The cloud only increases the value of the network.