According to Wikipedia, "Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid."
There are a number of benefits to be gained when moving to cloud computing, be it an internal cloud within your company or external, through a third party with data accessed over the web. The growing complexity of dealing with "fat clients", maintaining multiple software systems and complicated IT infrastructure has convinced many that the centralized "thin client" cloud computing model is the right path to take.
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch! The price of cloud computing is control. When adopting a cloud computing model, control of critical applications and systems is passed to the cloud service provider and this is something that companies have to accept. Given the interest in cloud computing, it would seem that this mental hurdle has been accepted.
But, if this acceptance and underlying confidence is to be maintained, then the cloud computing infrastructure needs to ensure that the critical applications and systems being provided are available at all times.
Therein lies the rub, for cloud computing, like any other technology, is not infallible as highlighted by the extremely prominent example of Google's Gmail going down for 100 minutes recently. Companies have to feel confident that their applications and data will be available and secure at all times and, as a result there is increasing interest in tools for monitoring, analyzing, optimizing and securing the application delivery infrastructure.
Availability is the number one issue for cloud computing. Companies and customers want to know that they can get access to their information at all times and that it is securely stored. The challenge is to meet that expectation and know how to mitigate any potential problems.
The worst scenario is that you can't access your data. After that, it's a question of time and how long you are without access. Cloud service providers can ensure that their data farms have redundant systems with regular backups and users can ensure that they have a reliable internet connection, but the key connection between the two is often outside both the user and the service providers' control. Cloud service providers should monitor their connections to ensure that they are optimally used and also ensure that they are adequately protected. But, they should also demand high availability from their network connectivity providers with detailed reports on performance.
This demands investment in dedicated network appliances capable of monitoring and analyzing high-speed connections in real-time. Not everyone is familiar with these devices or understands what they can provide. However, for those responsible for managing networks, these dedicated network appliances are becoming critical tools for ensuring the availability of the network and the service being supported by the network.
The major cloud service providers include Amazon, Salesforce and Google. Some of the larger IT firms that are actively involved in cloud computing are Fujitsu, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, IBM, VMware, NetApp and Dell.
Another piece of the puzzle is performance and the need to perform in real time. As with availability, if links are not working and customers have to resend information, they will not be happy. The success of cloud computing demands that users experience the services as if it were right on their desktop and are not reminded of the physical distance to the service in the form of delays. The service absolutely must have larger bandwidth connections running at higher speeds with higher line utilization. Network monitoring and analysis tools are required to ensure that there are no performance issues, but these tools have to be able to handle the vast amount of real-time data that will be flowing in these connections.
There has been an increasing trend towards using dedicated network appliances that specialize in these tasks. As we move to cloud infrastructures there are requirements for these network appliances to handle vast amounts of data in real-time.
For example, if an application needs to monitor and analyze all data traffic on a 10 Gbps port, then it needs to be capable of handling up to 15 million packets per second or a packet every 67ns! These network appliances must be able to see all the services, analyze them and take action quickly. The focus is on pre-empting of problems rather than reaction, as once the problem occurs, it is already too late.
Types of Devices
The key performance criteria for network appliances are speed and efficiency; having the horsepower to process high-speed data in real-time, while not using a lot of server processing power and to do all of this cost effectively. Fortunately, there are solutions that can meet all of these criteria today.
Traditionally, network appliances have been built using proprietary hardware and architectures. This has provided high performance, but at a higher cost. However, advances in standard server architectures and processing power means that standard servers can now be used to build high-performance network appliances that are very cost-effective. All you need to ensure high performance is to add a network adapter that can handle vast amounts of data in real-time, without losing packets, introducing excessive delay and using very little processing power.
The types of devices that have been based on such a model are: network performance management appliances; network forensic and diagnostic tools; network test systems, network security solutions; and network latency measurement systems.
All of these solutions are important in assuring the availability of the cloud computing infrastructure and all are capable of meeting the demands that the cloud will have now and in the future. Finally, while cloud computing is placing higher demands on performance, network appliance vendors are equal to the challenge and are capable of providing high-performance, real-time solutions that are based on cost-effective standard server platforms. This is in part thanks to the high-performance adapter solutions that are available.
By using these network appliances, we can ensure that "We're moving to the cloud" remains a line from a children's movie and does not turn in to a "house of horror" special!
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