There’s a lot of noise going on in the IT world, and it’s coming from the cloud. “We’re moving to the cloud” might seem like a line from the latest children’s movie, but the reality is many companies are doing just that and if they haven’t already, they are seriously considering it.

There are a number of benefits to be gained when moving to cloud computing, be it an internal cloud within your company or an external cloud, through a third party with data access over the Web. The growing complexity of dealing with maintenance of 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, and 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 seems that this mental hurdle has been overcome.

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, because 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 this results in increasing interest in tools for monitoring, analyzing, optimizing and securing the application delivery infrastructure.

While many are focusing on the cloud computing services and the possibilities they present, it is also important to consider the delivery infrastructure and make sure that this is providing the availability and performance that is required.

Availability

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 services being supported by the network.

Performance

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.

Cloud computing is a centralized model with multiple users accessing the same service at the same location. This means that at critical points in the network a lot of people are trying to get a lot of data through very few connections, resulting in potential traffic jams. This, in turn, means 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 toward 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 10Gbps port, then it needs to be capable of handling up to 15 million packets per second or a packet every 67 nanoseconds! These network appliances must be able to see all the services, analyze them and take action quickly. The focus is on pre-emption of problems rather than reaction, because once the problem occurs, it is already too late.

Types of Devices Being Deployed

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.

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.

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 ensuring 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.
When moving to the cloud, our focus tends to be on the service and its provider, with little thought given to the infrastructure in-between. It is assumed that it will always be there, and that access to the cloud service is a given. However, this is not automatic. Investment in dedicated network appliances for monitoring, analyzing, optimizing and securing the network are essential to ensure the availability of cloud services.

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