When it comes to preparing the enterprise for the cloud, many upgrades focus on scalability. Servers and storage in particular need the ability to expand and contract according to data requirements, largely through the pooling of resources both within and without the data center.
Networks as well as traffic loads and patterns will be in a constant state of flux as users become accustomed to wider varieties of increasingly complex applications and data sets. But network scalability is more than simply adding bandwidth or powering up more switches and routers. It encompasses network management and fabric technologies designed to both flatten out data hierarchies and foster a high degree of interoperability between hardware and software platforms in the quest for dynamic, automated environments.
In many ways, enterprise executives don't seem to grasp the true purpose of network scalability. According to Avaya's European unit, nearly three quarters of businesses on the continent have upgraded their networks in the past three years, yet 41 percent say it still takes a month or more to implement network changes. That means a whole lot of money is being spent on bigger, broader networks, but the ability to quickly take advantage of this newly deployed infrastructure is sorely lacking − and that will likely come back to haunt these groups as the cloud creates broad expectations among users of always on, always available services and applications.
Part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that adding bandwidth is easy, while building truly dynamic, scalable infrastructure forces IT to answer a number of fundamental questions regarding their role in the organization and their expectations going forward. The road to true scalability runs right through some long-held networking assumptions and practices, many of which will have to be jettisoned as more dynamic data environments take hold.
Companies like Entuity are promoting a range of new automation and traffic management technologies designed to break the static nature of most networking infrastructures. The company's latest release organizes network resources into discrete objects that can be pooled in an infinite number of ways for virtually unlimited scalability. These objects can be organized along hierarchical patterns like those used for system file folders, allowing users to create their own network views and, ultimately, assume greater operational control.
It's important to note that scalability is not just for very large organizations. Small and mid-sized firms are seeing their data loads increase, and are operating on even tighter capex and opex budgets than the big guys. Juniper is hoping to reach out to the SMB market with the new QFX3000-M, the latest iteration of the QFabric platform designed to flatten network infrastructure and improve scalability and manageability. The platform is designed to generate fungible pools of compute, storage and network resources while at the same time promoting rapid partitioning and high-speed connectivity to enable "exponential scaling" for working data environments.
Enterprises also need to consider the fact that data loads are set to increase at an even faster pace as users attempt to integrate personal mobile devices into work environments. Adtran is attempting to address the BYOD challenge from a networking perspective through its BlueSocket platform. The system beefs up wired and wireless LAN infrastructure and unites them under a unified management platform that scales infrastructure for additional users, applications and data volumes even as it reduces the number of hardware devices like routers and controllers. It also provides advanced edge security thay subjects incoming traffic to authentication, intrusion detection and application-level intelligence and control.
Network scalability is like that shiny new bike you saw in the store window as a kid. You wanted it real bad, but you knew it would take some work to get it. A key difference, however, is that while the bike was a luxury, scalability is quickly becoming a necessity for the enterprise.
Dynamic data environments of the near future will demand equal flexibility both in the cloud and behind the firewall. Enterprises ignore that fact at their own peril.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.