Networking Still a Thorn in the Cloud's Side

Friday Apr 7th 2017 by Arthur Cole
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Cloud computing has solved many problems for organizations, but it has made networking more complicated.

The cloud has certainly helped the enterprise gain the scale and flexibility needed to support modern data workloads. It has given a particular bonus to businesses that lacked the resources to build their own expanded infrastructure.

But while the ability to process and store large volumes of data is certainly welcome, organizations still face the problem of networking all of these resources together. It seems that even as software-defined architectures come online, the enterprise continues to deal with a wealth of connectivity issues in the local private cloud, the public cloud center and the wide area in between.

One thing lacking in the wide area, says Tata Communications’ Guarav Anand, is the democratization of technology that has taken hold inside the data center. Even emerging software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions are largely proprietary, which means the enterprise lacks the kind of hybrid WAN capabilities that are driving down costs and increasing flexibility elsewhere in the cloud. Correcting this situation will take broad cooperation between private WAN suppliers, government regulators, cloud providers and a host of other players. It will also most likely require upgrades to traditional Ethernet and MPLS networks so they can be properly integrated into enterprise-facing cloud architectures. Without this, the patchwork of public and private networking solutions will continue to be the chief barrier to the kinds of user experiences the cloud is supposed to deliver.

For hyperscale providers like Google, one of the biggest problems with long-haul network infrastructure is the lack of a robust development roadmap for optical technologies. Speaking at the Optical Fiber Communications conference in Los Angeles recently, Urs Hölzle, vice president of technical infrastructure at Google, said that even today’s 100 GbE modules are producing bottlenecks for Google-scale traffic. The company is looking for even denser solutions that are not only smaller but cheaper as well – something similar to the commodity hardware that populates its data centers. In addition, the company says it could provide more reliable service with multiple low(er) bandwidth cables between continents than with a single massive trunk. On top of it all would be a single, flattened management solution that oversees both the IP and optical layers.

This kind of management consolidation is already taking place elsewhere on the cloud networking stack. Huawei and Canonical recently launched a joint platform that simplifies the coordination between the data center and telco-based cloud services. The system combines Huawei’s CloudFabric data center networking solution and Agile SDN controller with Canonical’s Ubuntu OpenStack distribution to enable rapid provisioning and scalability in conjunction with automated management of complex application services. The companies say they can now provision in a matter of minutes multiple controller nodes capable of supporting a wide range of commercial OpenStack solutions.

At the same time, companies like Arista are employing containers in the development of new cloud management software. The company recently released the containerized version of its Extensible Operating System (cEOS) designed to allow cloud network operators to deliver highly customized service environments to the enterprise. By packaging the EOS software in containers, operators will be able to provide uniform workflows for development, testing and deployment of differentiated services, maintaining single-image consistency across development and production platforms. In addition to containers, organizations can also support EOS applications with VMs or as native Linux applications.

Networking has been — and probably always will be — the most complex element of data infrastructure. The myriad ways in which connectivity can be established and optimized between two points all but ensures that the enterprise will continue to face increased complexity on the networking stack as applications and services become more diverse and distributed.And as the cloud turns the entire world into one giant data center, we can expect networking to become more challenging over time, not less.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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