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Beware the Network Cost Gotchas of Cloud Computing

WAN Virtualization enables reliable public cloud networking

Although promising cost efficiency with its "pay as you need" model, the cost of implementing cloud computing can skyrocket when the expense of reliable and secure connectivity with sufficient bandwidth delivered via private WANs such as MPLS is added to the total bill. A less expensive potential alternative is to leverage less expensive Internet connections at data centers and radically less expensive broadband connections like ADSL and cable at remote locations. But everyone knows public WANs aren't reliable enough for enterprise use. Or are they?

For enterprises looking to move aggressively toward public, private or hybrid cloud computing, the need for a Wide Area Network (WAN) access layer that is scalable, reliable and inexpensive clearly exists.

Most enterprises today deploy MPLS networks from AT&T, Verizon and the like because they are reliable enough, meeting "four nines" (99.99 percent) reliability standards. This reliability, however, comes at a high price. At typical U.S. domestic pricing of ~$350 to as much as $2,500 (internationally) per Mbps per month for copper T1-based connections for a remote office, enterprises have not been able to grow their WAN bandwidth commensurate with the rate at which demand is growing. And that is before future cloud computing needs are taken into account. Although less expensive per Mbps than branch connectivity, data center MPLS bandwidth generally costs between $40 and $200 per Mbps per month.

By contrast, Internet bandwidth is priced from sub-$4 to ~$15 per Mbps per month for broadband cable and ADSL connections, and as low as $5 per Mbps per month for high-speed bandwidth at carrier-neutral colocation (colo) facilities. This 100x price/bit disparity exists because public Internet connectivity offers only about 99 percent reliability. By reliability, we are referring to the union of simple availability - the network is up and running with basic connectivity - and that packets are getting through to their destinations without being lost or excessively delayed. Unaided, Internet connections are indeed not reliable enough for most enterprise internal WAN requirements today, and as more enterprise applications are moved to "the cloud," the need for reliable and predictable performance from the WAN will only increase. Yet the popular perception of the Internet on its own is indeed accurate: it works pretty well most of the time. But "pretty well" is not good enough for most enterprises, and "most of the time" is not good enough for pretty much any.

A solution to the problem of cost-effective WAN connectivity for both private and public cloud computing that does not sacrifice reliability and performance predictability now exists. WAN Virtualization is changing the structure of the enterprise WAN in the same way that VMware and server virtualization are changing enterprise computing, by enabling reliable public cloud networking.

Where cloud/utility computing with server virtualization leverages the efficient pooling of computing and storage resources, WAN Virtualization delivers a similar efficient pooling of WAN resources, wrapping a layer of hardware and intelligent software around multiple WAN connections - existing private MPLS WANs, as well as any kind of Internet WAN links - to augment or replace those private WAN connections.

WAN Virtualization solutions are generally appliance-based, and are usually implemented as a two-ended solution to ensure the target reliability. They require network diversity per location, whether this is two (or more) different ISPs at each network location, or as little as an existing MPLS connection plus the local Internet access / VPN backup link. Aggregating several links per remote location, many of which are from the same service provider, is also beneficial to allow cost-effective bandwidth scalability.

They support per-flow or per-packet classification and QoS across these aggregated connections. They will typically support data security over the Internet via encryption; IPSec or 128-bit AES encryption, as for SSL VPNs, is common.

Because packet loss is the biggest killer of IP application performance, WAN Virtualization needs to do its best to avoid loss and mitigate the effects when loss occurs, through such techniques as buffering, retransmission, re-ordering, and even selective packet replication.

A successful WAN Virtualization solution will do continuous measurement of the state of each network path in each direction: loss, latency, jitter and bandwidth utilization, preferably many times a second. Uni-directional measurement, rather than simply measuring these statistics on a round-trip basis, is important in ensuring optimal handling of network congestion events. The real key to a WAN Virtualization solution is its ability to use that continuous measurement information to react sub-second to severe problems with any network connection to ensure performance predictability - addressing not just link failures, but also the kinds of congestion-related network problems that may occur more frequently on the public Internet than on private WANs.

Migration Path to Cloud Computing - No Forklift WAN Upgrades
A significant advantage of the WAN Virtualization approach for a cloud computing migration is that it can be deployed not just a site at a time, but an application, user or server at a time, at the discretion of the enterprise WAN manager. Enterprises may choose to use WAN Virtualization, whether temporarily or permanently, to augment, rather than completely replace, an existing MPLS WAN.

Complementary to existing WAN Optimization technology, WAN Virtualization is typically deployed as a network overlay, either in-line or out-of-line, supporting both fail-to-wire capability and high-availability redundancy options for both ease of deployment and maximum reliability.

WAN Virtualization solutions also ensure that real-time traffic like VoIP and interactive traffic such as VDI or web-based applications - the most common cloud computing uses - are continuously put on the best performing network paths, rather than simply placed on the connection, which is "usually" better at session initiation, to be moved only in the event of a complete link failure, as simple link load balancers do.

By making inexpensive Internet bandwidth reliable, WAN Virtualization complements perfectly the growing move to carrier-neutral colo facilities - places where essentially unlimited amounts of Internet bandwidth can be had for as little as $5 per Mbps per month.

Such a colo is the perfect place to deploy WAN bandwidth-hungry private cloud services. It's also ideal for centralizing network complexity, e.g., put the next-generation firewall at a colo, and use it to provide inexpensive, scalable Internet access, for secure access to both public cloud services as well as "generic" Internet sites. Just a small handful of colo facilities (two to seven) can deliver scalable, reliable Internet access for even the largest global WANs.

Hybrid Clouds "Solved"
With a private cloud deployment at such a colo, it's now straightforward to take advantage of public-cloud services in the same facility using a Gigabit Ethernet cross-connect within the building, because WAN Virtualization has now allowed enterprises to solve the network reliability and application performance predictability issues and the network security issues of access to public cloud services available at that facility, in a cost effective and scalable manner. This the most sensible way to "do" hybrid cloud computing, moving even huge workloads from private servers to public ones, because it can deliver the performance and it scales.

WAN Virtualization technology, when combined with carrier-neutral colo facilities, provides a pragmatic, evolutionary path to leveraging cloud computing. It solves network reliability, predictability and WAN cost issues, as well as many of the security and IT control issues, of a move to public or hybrid clouds. WAN Virtualization allows the network manager to be ready for the demands cloud computing will place on his/her enterprise WAN - without breaking the bank.

More Stories By Andy Gottlieb

A popular conference speaker and published author, Andy Gottlieb is a leading expert in WAN/LAN switching and routing. He founded Talari Networks after serving in executive roles in both startups and public corporations, including RouteScience, and MMC Networks, the pioneering Network Processor developer, through its $4.5B acquisition by Applied Micro Circuits Corporation (AMCC) in 2000. Gottlieb spent 12+ years at 3Com Corporation, including leading the Switching Systems business unit through its development and introduction of the CoreBuilder 9000 enterprise switching platform. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s degree from Stanford University.

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