Cloud computing has taken the technology industry by storm. Whilst some technology concepts have suffered from massive hype, but fallen at the implementation stage – Service Orientated Architecture anyone? – cloud computing appears to be establishing itself as a sound business prospect.
Analyst house Gartner has predicted that it has the potential to be as significant as ‘e-business’ to the IT sector. This is perhaps unsurprising given current competitive market conditions and there is no doubt that cloud computing offers businesses some seriously big carrots from scalability through to cost savings.
Cost cutting and performance optimisation now go hand-in-hand. Driving more with less is becoming the mantra of organisations world wide. However, before businesses are blinded by the advantages they need to take a step back and look at the underlying nuts and bolts that are required to make it tapping into the cloud a success.
Cloud computing assumes one crucial, fundamental, element – that businesses have sufficiently high bandwidth connections, essential to ensuring that the hundreds of people across the organisation can access business critical software applications and upload/download data from the cloud, already in place.
However, many businesses are still reliant on relatively low bandwidth DSL connections, meaning that they could falter at the first hurdle and perhaps be blocked from accessing the benefits of the cloud.
Just like any technology implementation, cloud computing has to drive business performance not hinder it. There is little point in gearing up a business to benefit from the cloud if once implemented it takes employees longer than it did previously to access the application they require.
What businesses will have saved in cost, they will lose again in terms of staff productivity. It is therefore vital that cloud computing can meet the designated service level agreements that underpin the effectiveness of the organisation.
Connecting to the cloud
The successful adoption of cloud computing within the enterprise will depend on more than ensuring access to fibre optic broadband for a wider range of businesses.
In a recent report, Gartner identified that there are four different types of networks that support cloud computing: the basic public Internet, the accelerated Internet, optimised Internet overlays and site-to-site VPNs. To deploy cloud computing effectively, it advised that both providers and users need to understand the performance, redundancy and cost of each.
- The public internet:
The public internet has the advantage of being widely available and is inherently fault tolerant. In addition an array of suppliers ensures service diversity. However, the lack of end-to-end quality of services (Qos) mean that it is nigh on impossible to guarantee meeting the businesses Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
This connectivity approach is also fraught with the possibility of packet loss, cable cuts and high latency connections, all of which can deal a blow to an organisations cloud computing aspirations.
- Accelerated Internet services:
Or Internet connections that have been enhanced by traffic shaping and prioritisation techniques, have an important role to play in ensuring that a diverse range of businesses will be able to benefit from cloud storage.
Typically, traffic prioritisation will be put in place by service providers so that their customers can safely make more extensive use of virtual data centres.
These allow service providers to offload network-related functions from their servers, which will allow end users of cloud storage to see considerable improvements in service performance. However, whilst there are fewer service level issues which this approach; network reliability remains a nagging doubt.
- Internet Optimised Overlays:
As previously discussed one of the key concerns for businesses looking to embark on a cloud computing implementation is the ability to meet SLA’s. Whilst cloud computing might cut IT costs, the price shouldn’t have to be staff working in a state of limbo.
To negate this challenge this connectivity option could be appealing for some cloud service providers. Access to the cloud would be via a standard Internet connection, but on a particular carrier’s network.
This allows optimised real time routing, which makes SLAs easier to achieve by avoiding Internet hotspots, and allows frequently accessed information to be delivered from local caches. Under this method of delivery, the connection terminates at the cloud edge. While this approach is more ‘managed’ than services delivered via the public Internet it is more costly.
It also ties both the end user and provider into particular vendor relationships, which reduces the perceived ‘security of diversity’ which forms a large part of cloud computing’s initial attraction as a concept.
- Site-to-Site VPN:
Delivering cloud services via a VPN offers manifold benefits. This method ensures total confidentiality, while solving both the bandwidth problem and the difficulty of delivering on SLAs, while the network itself can be scaled (at a cost).
It is worth noting, however, that WAN connections of this kind are not any more reliable than Internet connections. There are also, as outlined above, questions as to whether restricting provision of your cloud services to one carrier is altogether desirable.
Laying the foundations
Whilst cloud computing is expected to go mainstream in both the public and private sector over coming years, connectivity remains a hot topic for debate.
The approach has matured quickly and attracted the attention of businesses, but in order to prevent a ‘digital divide’ from emerging in the enterprise businesses need to re-evaluate their communications infrastructure and ask themselves if it is up to scratch.
Organisations must work out which connectivity option best suits their business needs. What is clear is that those enterprises with ready access to Next Generation Networks are likely to fare better than those that still depend on the UK’s ageing legacy communications infrastructure.
The performance of a business’ network is vital to organisations realising their vision of the cloud. Those that simply cross their fingers and hope for the best will face an uphill battle as the UK’s legacy network cannot provide the bandwidth necessary to access business critical services, which it was not designed to provide.
At a time when businesses are looking to innovate in the provision of their IT services, they shouldn’t dismiss their network as inconsequential in the success of their cloud computing ambitions. Doing so is akin to tripping over your own feet.
Julien St John-Dennis is Director Product Management at NTL Telewest Business.