Eliminating the performance barriers to cloud computing

By Steve Dixon*
Tuesday, 30 March, 2010

Cloud computing is becoming an important new tool for IT managers in controlling the cost and complexity of business-critical applications and data. The technology is compelling to enterprises because it allows them to consolidate resources, provision services more quickly and even rationalise costs more effectively with new business models.

These cloud initiatives may be private cloud-based (where server and storage resources reside in an enterprise’s own data centre), public cloud-based (where resources live in a shared datacentre, via a service such as Amazon EC2), or a hybrid model incorporating both public and private cloud services.

Unfortunately, as users move further from their data, problems with application performance, network bandwidth and visibility often limit the effective gains of a scalable cloud computing model. Addressing these limitations can be the difference between the success or failure of a cloud-based system, which in turn can affect an organisation’s effectiveness and competitive advantage in its market.

Wide area network (WAN) optimisation technology can potentially provide a solution to accelerate cloud services to ensure that consolidated, virtualised applications and services can be accessed by end users from anywhere - in a manner which enables them to be significantly more productive, while delivering the expected cost and management efficiencies offered by the cloud model.

Private cloud services

For many years now, enterprises have been building what is now termed 'private clouds' by consolidating distributed IT hardware and data into centralised data centres. Their reasons for doing so include cost reduction, data security, manageability and regulatory compliance.

However, private cloud deployments can put significant strain on existing resources and work processes. As IT departments consolidate resources, applications and data are typically moved further away from many end users. Branch office employees and mobile workers now are required to go further across the WAN to get the information they need.

The resulting application and network latency can often dramatically reduce performance and make the business less productive overall. At the same time, the consolidation puts more strain on the available bandwidth connecting branch offices to the data centre. With consolidated resources, many more user requests go back to the data centre. The WAN is then responsible for carrying significantly more traffic, which could lead to bandwidth congestion and may force the enterprise to purchase more bandwidth.

Public cloud services

Using a service provider’s infrastructure or platform allows enterprises to integrate the public cloud into their IT infrastructure. A public cloud service allows the enterprise to rent compute power and storage, and is usually billed on a discrete basis.

Public cloud services are compelling because of scale and elasticity - a service provider supporting thousands of businesses can drive lower costs than any one business alone, and can provide adaptability for changing workloads as an operating expense rather than a capital expense.

One of the major challenges with the adoption of public clouds is performance. Moving services to a public cloud means that enterprises must accept that their applications can potentially be run from anywhere in the world - wherever the data centre of the service provider happens to be. Most public cloud services do not specify data centre locations in their terms of service, maximising their freedom to migrate work to reduce their operating costs. In essence, the distance (and latency) in accessing applications may significantly increase for everyone in the enterprise. In addition, these distances may change unpredictably.

Cloud storage - hit or myth?

Another area of great potential is cloud storage. Cloud storage services offer enterprises the ability to back up and recover huge quantities of data to and from third-party data centre facilities. The economies of scale, pricing models and elasticity of this model all offer great potential cost savings for users of such services. However, for these services to be successful, significant performance barriers need to be addressed and overcome, just as for cloud-based software applications.

In a similar fashion to many other network and application protocols, storage area network (SAN) traffic performs very poorly across any sort of a wide area connection - to such an extent that until recently it was considered impossible to run any block-based storage protocol across the WAN.

If these cloud storage services are to be successful, some method of cloud storage acceleration technology is needed to address this problem and restore SAN-like performance to distributed storage systems both across the enterprise WAN and across the cloud.

If WAN optimisation vendors can add application-specific acceleration technology for common storage technologies and data storage protocols to their existing WAN optimisation products, then there is the potential to boost the performance of those applications across the WAN or cloud. Such enhancements will further improve performance and reduce the cost of WAN- or cloud-based backup and recovery operations for enterprises everywhere.

These enhancements could include:

  • Virtualisation of WAN optimisation appliance technology, to allow it to run as a virtual machine inside a cloud operator’s data centre.
  • Storage protocol-specific acceleration enhancements.
  • New traffic interception technology to address the change from physical to virtual appliances.
  • The addition of new billing models to support metered pricing for acceleration services, similar to the basic cloud services.

Blow away your clouds

Whether an organisation develops their own private cloud, uses a public cloud service or uses some combination of both, WAN optimisation enables it to attain the cost, scale and manageability benefits of cloud offerings, while gaining the performance levels and visibility needed for a productive workforce. By using WAN optimisation technology, enterprises can:

  • Accelerate access to private and public cloud infrastructure.
  • Accelerate the movement of virtualised machines and data to cloud data centres.
  • Significantly reduce the bandwidth needed to support branch offices and data centres.

*Steve Dixon is Managing Director, Australia/New Zealand for Riverbed Technology.

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