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Time to get your cloud network architecture ready

Enterprises need to ensure their cloud network architecture is ready for the future. Here are some concepts network managers should think about.

As modern enterprise networks move into the world of public cloud computing, certain facts come to light. One is...

that enterprise network managers are forced to work with public cloud providers to ensure that the network continues to support the needs of the business. This means that some IT fundamentals are undergoing change. 

First, cloud network architectures need to be more flexible: Static networks drastically limit the use of cloud. Second, network services need to be decoupled from a single physical location, since the delivery of data, compute and user interfaces are now ubiquitous. Finally, many network resources need to be abstracted so provisioning can be automated and orchestrated.

The new cloud network architecture

The reality is that many enterprises are not ready to leverage public or hybrid clouds. Over the years, enterprise network infrastructure hasn’t received the funding needed to upgrade the infrastructure to support the necessary speed and management layers.

More often, the static nature of traditional networks limits the ability of network managers to adapt their networks to the cloud.  

Network requirements for the successful use of cloud include the following:

  • The ability to secure specific network segments in different ways to meet the requirements of the data flowing across the network. In many instances, this requires network-based encryption. The networks need to be configured to meet a variety of performance and security requirements.
  • The ability to provide network prioritization (packet shaping) for specific applications and data flowing across the network. If public clouds contain business-critical data, those systems should have priority access to network resources, including fault tolerant and resilient subsystems. 
  • The ability to have application-aware networking. Private clouds, public clouds and traditional systems use the network in different ways, depending on the application, data and user interface and how they communicate with each other and cloud-based servers. A network that can adjust to those use patterns is certainly more effective when cloud computing comes into play.

Configuring network resources

When working with cloud resources, networks are more effective when they can be decoupled from physical resources or geographies. This supports the concept of ubiquitous computing, one of the tenets of cloud computing. The locations of the services instances are hidden from the machines or users that access them, making the physical location unimportant. 

Ubiquitous computing and the networks that support it focus on removing the complexity of computing and increasing the efficiency. As a result, access to server instances could go to any number of different physical locations (if allowed) in search of available resources. 

Applications, for example, could have 100-plus compute server instances running in 12 different data centers, connected to four data servers that run in two different data centers. All of these servers are either connected using the network infrastructure offered by the cloud service provider, or they need to architect the enterprise infrastructure in the same manner. Enterprises must be able to configure network services to provide the flexibility needed to support ubiquitous cloud computing. 

Abstraction of resources

Most of the needed changes come down to the ability to manage networks through a layer of abstraction. This means that physical resources don’t need to be managed as they were in the past. Instead, network professionals can use management and automation tools to bundle objects that represent logical groupings of resources, not widely distributed physical devices. 

The idea is to hide the complexity that cloud computing brings to network managers. Instead of having to deal with thousands of servers scattered across the enterprise infrastructure and that of several public cloud providers, the concept is to manage applications, data, and the like as single logical representations. Using this approach, enterprises can better manage resources whether they are on-premises, in the cloud or both.

Network managers will find that cloud computing adds additional challenges. With a bit of planning and greater budgets, however, the addition of cloud-based resources on the network should be an efficient upgrade that greatly reduces costs and increases agility for the business. If your organization hasn’t put a cloud-computing plan together yet, now is the time.

Next Steps

Read a primer on network cloud computing security issues

Evaluate your network for strong private cloud network performance

Considerations for choosing a network cloud provider

This was last published in September 2015

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