Security concerns (real and imagined) have long dominated much of the cloud conversation and caused many companies to deliberate about getting started in the cloud. Slowly, the security issues are being addressed--through the adoption of corporate policies for cloud usage, maturing cloud provider offerings, and by technologies such as CloudSwitch which isolate and encrypt all cloud resources to meet the requirements of the CSO. But while the focus has been on cloud security, another potential bottleneck is on the horizon as companies start using the cloud in more substantial ways.
In our discussions with IT executives and their teams, we’ve been hearing about a new concern: the ability of corporate networks to handle cloud traffic. Network performance is a lurking issue that hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves. That’s understandable, since bandwidth is rarely a problem for companies exploring the cloud in a small way, where they may deploy a few experimental VMs in order to understand the process. But as they start expanding their cloud footprint and running production-oriented applications, data movement takes on a completely different scale. As enterprises start to move real workloads out to the cloud (or to straddle internal and external clouds), look for network performance to become top of mind.
IT professionals and developers often assume they have huge network capacity, and it’s probably ample for their current Internet usage or the small cloud projects they may have tried so far. But what will happen, for example, when you have dozens of developers all trying to use cloud resources? Or if you put high-transaction processes in the cloud that need to “talk back” to your data center? What if you are trying to move a lot of video or graphics between your business users and the cloud? Network usage is about to get much more demanding, and the traffic will need to flow without bottlenecks (or saturating the network) for an organization’s cloud strategy to work.
Thus potential cloud users will have to do some back-of-the-envelope analysis of the maximum bandwidth they might need and how much additional traffic the network can handle. While the data center (or internal network) is running at speeds of 1Gb and even 10Gb, the connection to the Internet is lagging behind. Today, a “good” Internet connection is considered to be in the 100Mbps range. Some companies have more, and many have less than this capability, so when extending services to the cloud, you have to consider what impact this lower speed could have, and how to deal with it.
This is actually a two-part problem. You have to consider initial data movement: how long will it take to move a terabyte of data over the Internet and into the cloud? What impact will that have on current users and your business? You also have to look at ongoing updating of that data: how much traffic will be flowing back and forth, and what will that mean for your steady state? Will you have to buy more bandwidth for the cloud to be viable? Obviously, any major new capex requirements would be a challenge for cloud adoption.
Fortunately, technologies are emerging that can help optimize your current network and avoid an expensive upgrade. For example, CloudSwitch has a public IP address capability that provides direct access to cloud resources without having to go through the enterprise data center, avoiding what could otherwise be a huge bottleneck. Rather than relying on the Internet connection to the data center, cloud deployments can take advantage of the aggregate bandwidth of end users. This CloudSwitch feature also allows enterprise firewalls and load balancing capabilities to run in the cloud so traffic can flow smoothly and securely. In addition, companies like Citrix, F5, Riverbed, and Cisco are developing software versions of their WAN optimization technologies that can be deployed in the cloud. Their innovations in compression, de-duplication, and other techniques will enable much more efficient data movement so you can make better use of the network you already have.
If you’re the head of IT or Application Development looking ahead to 2011, you probably have some great cloud pilots under your belt, and you’re evaluating moving into the cloud in production mode. Just remember that bandwidth is something you’ll need to think about and prepare for.
CloudSwitch has been thinking about these issues, and together with our partners we’re working on solutions to ensure optimum bandwidth for the cloud. Emerging technologies will allow you to meet the bandwidth demands required by production applications, so you can scale out your cloud footprints without building out your corporate network, leveraging the investments you’ve already made.