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Should You Be Considering Web-Scale Networking? | @CloudExpo #IoT #M2M #Cloud #DataCenter

The web-scale strategy has begun to gain the attention of enterprises in response to the changing data center landscape

Should You Be Considering Web-Scale Networking?

Web-scale networking, also known as hyperscale, is a concept that has been popularized by companies like Google, Netflix and Facebook, who adopted this model for its proven cost economics, resiliency, scalability, and in some cases, better performance for large companies.

In recent months, the web-scale strategy has begun to gain the attention of enterprises in response to the changing data center landscape and growth of compute-heavy, complex technologies like AI, machine learning, and big data analytics initiatives. What should IT pros know about web-scale?

Web-Scale Explained
At its core, a web-scale strategy is a set of enabling technologies and practices that provide enterprises the same capabilities, cost structure and flexibility that the very largest Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) can deliver. The more realistic definition of web-scale is AWS or Azure done inexpensively, but often with considerable compromise. Although you're receiving some of the same capabilities of CSPs for less money, your organization may not have the same rich or mature feature set.

Ultimately, a web-scale strategy, when successfully implemented and maintained, can provide the cost structure, capability and flexibility CSPs themselves enjoy. However, it also requires significant IT discipline, skill and up-front cost investment that are off-putting for many businesses.

So, why try it?

Wholesale Cloud Computing
For organizations that have the wherewithal (read: budget, skills, staff) to implement web-scale, there are quite a few benefits that make the investment worth the effort. Cost, certainly, is a key incentive for an organization's transition to web-scale architecture. Companies like Walmart might foot an AWS bill upwards of $100M a year.

If you have the IT skill resources, especially if the CSP is a direct competitor, why not implement a CSP-modeled environment yourself to reap "wholesale" pricing based on the same OEM infrastructure providers? This is an especially important benefit for companies that have applications with large data footprints: industrial Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, for example, can include millions of sensors that generate massive amounts of data to be processed and require infrastructure that can appropriately scale to that size operation.

In other cases, data security concerns play a role in determining whether an on-premises web-scale implementation makes sense. Healthcare organizations or government agencies remain wary of hosting patient or personal data outside the firewall, despite CSP compliance certifications. Similarly, some organizations may find that they're able to manage corporate espionage by keeping sensitive, proprietary data onsite via a web-scale architecture rather than a remote cloud platform.

Another driver might be a need to provide commodity services primitives to harmonize distributed complexity. If you're a business with a large online presence, you have already implemented complex methods to ensure data availability, but you also can expect that basic infrastructure will also increase in complexity - such as spinning out into multiple regions or availability zones. Web-scale is known for delivering against the need for open-ended, scale-out of internet connected users.

Finally, there are a few fringe advantages, such as improved performance in the absence of the need to ship data 10, 20, or even just 60 milliseconds away, and significantly reduced licensing costs thanks to web-scale's open-source roots. This only further sweetens the pot for big companies that want to control their IT operation soup to nuts.

Implementation Challenges
Big benefits, however, don't come without big challenges and considerations.

First and foremost, the skill required to implement a web-scale architecture is relatively enormous. CSPs like AWS and Azure have spent years developing their technology, hosting platforms and add-on services - and they have the luxury of being able to focus only on developing and innovating these things. AWS's "primitives" offerings, a collection of over 100 tools that each focus on one competency (like container management, or queuing services, etc.), are just one example of how specialized the provider has become.

Meanwhile, at the enterprise level, IT professionals are still tasked with handling help desk requests, and just generally "keeping the lights on," all of which detract from the always-on dedication to maintaining a web-scale implementation. On top of that, investing in web-scale is a massive monetary undertaking and most businesses today are rightfully focused on cost efficiency. That means your existing IT infrastructure is more than likely extremely interconnected and chock-full of single points of failure - when a storage SAN system goes down and simultaneously knocks the network offline because of a DNS outage - which is ultimately the opposite of web-scale architecture ideology.

The bottom line is, it's impossible to have the IT team responsible for running applications that are critical to the business also taking care of the platform. You need a dedicated set of developers and admins taking care of your platform, which requires additional time, skill and monetary resources that most businesses just don't have.

Should You Be Considering Web-Scale?
Of course, these challenges aren't to say your business won't eventually implement at least some web-scale architectures. There are three questions that both you, the IT professional, and your business should consider, whether you're ready to transition to web-scale now or are contemplating for the future:

  • Are we big enough? If you're large enough to support the cost and skill requirements, web-scale is a good idea. It delivers extreme flexibility, cost savings and customization capabilities without being tied to a CSP or SLA. Currently, there is no standard "ideal business size" for web-scale deployments. This is what the market at-large is trying to determine as the benefits of web-scale computing become even more popularized. Let's just say that for now, if your company would balk at the notion of hundreds of internal developers, or you're at the size and scale of Facebook, Google, Walmart, or your CSP light bill is a major portion of your overall budget, your organization likely doesn't need the same infrastructure size of those companies and web-scale. It's probably not the best investment in the near-term.
  • Are we skilled enough? Does your IT department have the technical skills necessary to stand up - and continue to maintain - an architecture designed to model the biggest cloud players? Not only will your organization need to invest in developers to facilitate the ongoing management and maintenance of the web-scale platform, but as a department, you will need to start thinking differently about how you approach IT. Big companies like Nike or Walmart aim to hire large teams specifically for ongoing support their web-scale IT architecture and it's a necessary element of web-scale. You need a dedicated team to manage this platform to successfully achieve its purported benefits.
  • Are we, as a business and an IT department, committed and flexible enough to fundamentally alter the way we do IT? At the end of the day, web-scale is synonymous with an ongoing commitment to regular restructuring. Remember: AWS®, Azure® and Google® are exclusively focused on innovation and service development and regularly move the goal posts when it comes to ensuring your business has the most up-to-date infrastructure and technology capabilities. By implementing web-scale architecture, your enterprise will be chasing CSPs and their ongoing technological advancements forever. If you're large enough, that's okay. But in most cases, this is a critical requirement that proves intimidating-and off-putting-for IT decision-makers who tend to think of IT investment as closed-feature capex.

Closing Thoughts
At the end of the day, web-scale computing is fundamentally transformative, but requires such a significant IT personnel and monetary investment from enterprises that it's unrealistic to expect the majority of companies will make a transition to this strategy in the near future.

However, CSPs like Microsoft Azure are working to deliver at least some Platform as a Service (PaaS) functionality to traditional enterprises with solutions like Azure Stack®, which offers a reduced feature set of that you can run on-premises.  Of course, AWS® will likely follow in its footsteps.

While web-scale computing may not be in most organizations' near-future, its benefits are beginning to trickle down to more realistic deployment options. By staying in tune with these developments, you may find opportunities to realize key benefits of web-scale architecture where the fit is good, without debilitating teething pains.

More Stories By Patrick Hubbard

Patrick Hubbard is a head geek and senior technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, with 20 years of technical expertise and IT customer perspective. His networking management experience includes work with campus, data center, high availability and disaster recovery, and storage networks, and with VoIP, telepresence and VDI in both Fortune 500 companies and startups in the high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries.

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