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The Challenges Cloud Computing Poses for Networks Today's cloud-based infrastructures and complex data centers need

networks that are capable of carrying multiple types of data, each with different types of requirements. How does one go about evaluating how ready their network is for cloud computing and then going about correcting what is needed? By Drew Robb Today's cloud-based infrastructures and complex data centers need networks that are capable of carrying multiple types of data, each with different types of requirements. "Networks have to be more available, more reliable and more performance-deterministic," says Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. "You can't cloudsource applications over a network if the network introduces risks that the application won't meet business needs once it is hosted in the cloud." How does one go about evaluating how ready their network is for cloud computing and then going about correcting what is needed? "Nobody is really going to set one up," says Nolle, "they are going to morph what they have into a cloud-ready network." Defining the Cloud Before determining exactly how to set up a network for cloud-based computing, one first has to clear the air on exactly what one means by "the cloud." "If you stop and consider it, cloud computing is really a consumption-and-delivery model as opposed to some new technology," says Dan Kusnetzky, analyst and founder of the Kusnetzky Group. "It is merely the newest catch phrase for what has been going on for 10 to 15 years in some segments." There are a number of ways that services can be consumed over a network connection, each with its own network requirements. There is Software as a Service (SaaS) where another firm develops and hosts the software and your data. This model goes back to the mainframe, time-sharing model of the 1960s. Now users access the applications through a Web browser, and the network just has to be adequate to support an internet connection to the service provider. Salesforce.com, Oracle CRM on Demand, Google Docs and Mosaic are examples of the $10 billion SaaS market.

Then there is Platform as a Service (Paas). Unlike SaaS, where customers can only configure but not customize the software, with PaaS the vendor provides the development tools, runtime libraries and frameworks to let your developers create their own applications, as well as testing and hosting environments. Examples include K2 Analytics, which hosts an online version of Oracle's Hyperion Business Intelligence software, or AmazonRDS, which is a hosted version of the MySQL relational database. From a network standpoint, PaaS is similar to SaaS in that it simply requires access through a browser. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), or utility computing, is where the provider gives its customers access to a virtual or physical machine and bills according to usage. Terremark's Enterprise Cloud, Rackspace's Cloud Servers, Amazon's EC2 and AT&T's Synaptic Cloud provide computing services. There are also IaaS vendors that provide just a particular part of the infrastructure such as storage or content delivery. IaaS can have much higher bandwidth requirements than SaaS or PaaS. For example, you may be transferring virtual machines, large databases or CAD files between the local servers and those at the IaaS provider. Finally, there are private clouds, where the company connects its own data centers together for failover, load balancing or other purposes. These can require huge pipes to eliminate bottlenecks and latency. Looking at What You Have Once your business determines what type of cloud service to support, you can start the process of determining if your current network can provide the required level of service. "That process starts with setting application-level Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to define the performance boundaries of the business processes themselves," says Nolle. At that point you can determine whether the existing network will meet those SLAs. "If your network is already slow, if you can get on Skype and tell when there are backups running or file transfers or VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure] boot storms due to broken or pixelated audio, chances are that your network needs some care and feeding," says Greg Schulz, founder of the Server and StorageIO Group and author of the book Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking. "In addition to the subjective measurement approaches, there are other more advanced methods including tools for testing response time and throughput or watching for retransmission or other errors." Once you have a clear view of what you want to achieve with cloud computing and how far the current infrastructure can take you, it is time to start looking at what else is needed. "That could mean adding additional network resource, but also other technologies, including storage deduplication, that can reduce traffic enough to improve cloud performance," says Charles King, Principal Analyst, Pund-IT.

Upgrading the Network Planning a network upgrade to support cloud computing isn't much different than any other network upgrade. "It is very similar to the steps that would be taken to support any newly remote or external computing resource, such as colocation hosting or a new data center," says Jim Frey, managing research director, Enterprise Management Associates, in Portsmouth, N.H. "Network capacity planning should be undertaken to prepare for the potential change in workloads and traffic levels, and ongoing monitoring undertaken to ensure that actual volumes and performance remain within expected limits." But there are two problems that need to be taken into account: the latency introduced by running the application remotely and the inability to look into the service provider's network. Both of these can be solved to the point where users aren't aware the application is no longer running locally. "Monitoring what is going on inside the cloud may drive the need for deployment of management agents or virtual probes alongside compute elements within the cloud provider's domain," says Frey. There are also numerous options for reducing latency. Migrating from standard Ethernet to an Ethernet fabric flattens the network and improves response times. Using WAN optimization and data or application caching can help boost speeds and reduce latency. Then, of course, you can always take the brute force approach and just add more bandwidth. "However, it is not just about bandwidth, as there is a latency or response time concern as well for some applications," says Schulz. "Bottom line, if you are going to do anything with the cloud, you need to keep networking services in mind as well as how to optimize, which means more than just throwing bandwidth at it."