Delivering Corporate Networks to the Cloud: Is Your Network Ready?

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David White, is President North American Operations & Senior VP Global Business Development for Ipanema Technologies. David is a senior executive with more than 25 years experience and has a background in WAN Optimization in both enterprise and service provider markets.

David-White-smDAVID WHITE
Ipanema Technologies

Gartner has identified cloud services as representing $68 billion worldwide in 2010, growth of 16.6 percent more than 2009, which presents a tremendous opportunity for carriers and challenges for network managers. Enterprise network managers have traditionally focused on delivering a stable infrastructure, managing the variety of demands on the network and sustaining business as usual.

Enter “the cloud,” Software-As-A-Service (SaaS), virtualization, data center consolidation and the associated benefits this type of IT transformation offers and suddenly the roles of the network and network manager shift dramatically. Today CIOs want to take advantage of the cost and efficiency benefits of cloud computing. Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are ideally placed to benefit from this demand by offering value-added services to enterprise customers whilst countering the erosion of traditional MPLS revenues at the same time.

Communications Service Providers (CSPs)

As providers of corporate networks, hosting facilities and often specific business applications such as video conferencing, unified communications and digital signage, CSPs are perfectly placed to assist enterprises move to the cloud, but they are competing with large system integrators such as IBM and CSC, as well as one another. Delivering corporate networks which are able to handle the diverse demands of cloud computing transforms the operator offering from commoditized MPLS networks (where differentiation is focused on price) to that of a key enabler which can unlock the value of the cloud. There is a chance to increase margins, win new business and reduce customer churn.

Network Challenges Posed by the Cloud

Cloud computing is an amorphous term with varying definitions, but central to each is the concept of thin client computing where applications and computing infrastructure are delivered to users as a service, via the network. This trend puts pressure on the WAN. Applications like SAP, Oracle, Unified Communications, VoIP and telepresence all have varying performance parameters and must be treated appropriately by the WAN and therefore drastically increase the challenge of allocating bandwidth and network resources. In addition, CIOs require the performance of each application to be guaranteed, not at the network level, but at the individual user level.

Services used by enterprises are increasingly provided both from private clouds hosted by the likes of IBM and the public cloud, for example Google’s enterprise application portfolio which is hosted in an unknown location and delivered via the public internet. This trend is driving enterprises to operate with hybrid MPLS, Ethernet and internet based IP-VPNs. Multiple networks delivering more and more applications creates a need for increased intelligence within the network. For example, which application should be given priority at times of peak demand and which network should it use? What is an acceptable delay for a Unified Communications service?

Dealing With Branch Offices

Branch offices are being transformed from passive network ‘spokes’ to network hubs in their own right. No longer does a branch office communicate simply with a handful of local servers hosting all its applications. Today, the branch office pulls applications from the public and private clouds, for example Salesforce or Google apps are located at unknown data centres. The branch is now drawing on multiple sources and transferring data to remote and mobile works at multiple locations – increasing complexity.

Moving to Cloud-Ready Networks

As service providers recognize the market potential for cloud services they begin to consider how they can improve their networks and how they can make them ‘cloud ready’. As we have seen, the complexity of assigning network availability with a plethora of application demands is growing rapidly. Traditional MPLS CoS (Classes of Service) have served the industry well, but they have limitations and cannot guarantee service levels at the application level.

A cloud-ready network must offer features that help solve an enterprise IT department’s broader challenges including:

  • Unifying VPN technologies (MPLS, Ethernet and Internet) into a single, coherent network with consolidated, centralised, application management and control also known as hybrid network unification.
  • Provisioning network access according to business-critical application requirements (accurate network sizing and application prioritization).
  • Guaranteeing the availability and performance of business-critical applications regardless of MPLS or cloud delivery (expanding the scope of network CoS SLAs to more granular “application-centric” QoS SLAs).
  • Ensuring cloud security, especially for public cloud services.
  • Measuring application performance with quality metrics to improve operational visibility and to enable the WAN to be governed based on granular application performance information.
  • Automatic provisioning of new applications, network sites and additional end users.
  • Ensuring the same levels of service for mobile users requiring anywhere, anytime access.

As enterprises realize the need for cloud-ready networks, the concept of WAN Governance has grown in importance. For CSPs, enabling WAN Governance means dynamically aligning customers’ networks with their IT and business priorities in order to deliver value-added services that:

  • Fully control and optimize a customer’s network performance, including MPLS, private cloud and public cloud.
  • Guarantee critical business applications with application-centric SLAs.
  • Unify application availability and performance across cloud networks.
  • Dynamically adapt to whatever is happening on the network.

Cloud computing is possibly the most exciting opportunity for carriers since IP. Those operators that thrive in this new environment will be those that can convince CIOs they are cloud ready. For example, a recent Forrester Research study of network managers at $1 billion + enterprises found their primary concern is now “consistent end-to-end application and service performance guarantees.” CIOs want to adopt cloud computing but every CSP must ask themselves, ‘have we done enough to convince CIOs the network can support their cloud strategy?’

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