When moving to the cloud, don’t forget the network
Enterprises today are embarking on digital transformations that are causing the greatest changes to wide area networking (WAN) in the past 20 years. Not since multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) replaced frame relay as a WAN standard has there been such disruption in WAN technology. WAN transformation is being driven by the need for improved operational costs and efficiencies, business agility, data security, and the way organisations make IT decisions. What’s causing all this change? Here are the key factors pushing WAN transformation:
- Shifting workloads into the cloud. Traditional WANs were designed to connect static environments, such as office workers to an application workload sitting in a data centre somewhere. Neither the workloads nor the employees moved around very much. By definition, moving workloads to the cloud changes network traffic patterns that could potentially impact application performance. Moreover, application workloads may be globally distributed. The data could be in one place, and the application and web servers in others. This architecture completely changes the traffic flow related to that workload, which impacts application performance, security, and cost.
- Demand for more bandwidth. This is being propelled by the growth of enterprise mobility and the increase in the number of devices dumping traffic onto the network. In addition, the nature of the traffic is also changing, with a much greater share being bandwidth-consuming rich media such as video and conferencing. Analysts report bandwidth demand growing 30% per year, but many of my clients tell me their bandwidth requirements are growing as much as 80% to 90% per year. Yet most of these same enterprises have flat to declining telco budgets.
- Willingness to consider the Internet as a WAN transformation medium. The public internet has improved as a communication vehicle over the past decade. For example, packet loss of 15%, common 10 to 15 years ago, is now down to about 3% to 4%. While not as good as MPLS, the price differential on a per-MB of bandwidth basis makes it an option that enterprises cannot ignore. In addition, as new software defined WAN (SD-WAN) technologies have matured over the past couple of years, it is possible to easily set up and manage WANs with multiple types of circuits that enable you to optimise cost and performance for different workloads. Doing this right makes all the difference between distributed workloads that operate smoothly and ones that are an unreliable mess.
I see many enterprises who are working to digitally transform their organisations spending a lot of time thinking about the speed, flexibility, and cost savings they can achieve by moving workloads to the cloud. This is great. Unfortunately the discussions often end there. So my first piece of advice to anyone pursuing a cloud strategy is this: Don’t forget the WAN.
When deciding which workloads to run in the cloud and which ones to run in your data centre, don’t forget to ask the next question, which is ‘What’s the best way for end users to connect to those workloads?’ The answer used to be simple — MPLS. But that’s no longer the only answer. MPLS is too costly and inflexible to support all the needs of most businesses today. The right answer for many organisations will be some kind of cloud-optimised hybrid WAN that includes MPLS and lower-cost alternatives such as the Internet – leveraging new SD-WAN routing solutions.
But this is no longer a simple equation, because so many factors contribute to optimum workload cost and performance. Making the wrong WAN choices can sink a perfectly good application strategy.
I would also advise getting security involved at the very beginning. When moving assets to the cloud and building a cloud-optimised hybrid WAN infrastructure, you must break down that security silo and pull the security pros in early. This becomes an opportunity to revisit security controls and adjust them for the new environment. If security is not brought in at the beginning, you will have problems and pain down the road.
Finally, recognise that operating a hybrid infrastructure requires new management practices. For example, managing a cloud-optimised WAN will, more than likely, require working with multiple carriers to achieve the desired cost economies, especially for a large organisation with multiple branches in different regions. The way you managed your single MPLS carrier will no longer work for a cloud-optimised hybrid WAN. Additionally, SD-WAN technologies have many more capabilities than legacy routers and require more technical decisions than is the case with a network based solely on MPLS. This also becomes a chance to investigate different consumption models that impact total cost. Many organisations work with networking specialists to navigate these issues, and I would advise doing that so you can focus on your core business.
A cloud-optimised hybrid WAN solution can deliver increased bandwidth at a significant telco cost saving. You will likely have to give some of those savings back in the form of consulting and managed services to assure your WAN is optimised for your business and application architecture. However, it’s important to look beyond just the cost-saving equation: You are building the technical foundation for the future of your enterprise. Cost is important, but so are performance, security, scalability, agility, and operational and business enablement — all the things that come into play when your business moves in directions you may not be able to foresee.
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