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Today's Networks Not Yet Ready for Enterprise Cloud

Enterprise networks are not ready for broad enterprise cloud IT services

Enterprise networks are not ready for broad enterprise cloud IT services a la Nicholas Carr.

As network and IT practitioners gathered in Las Vegas (Interop) and tech thought leaders conveyed on San Diego (Future in Review) the week of May 18th, there was more than a weave of flights running between them related to the timing and impact of cloud computing on the enterprise IT industry.

It was clear from a multitude of thought leaders, vendors and data center professionals that today’s networks are not ready for the deployment of many forms of cloud computing, especially the multi-site enterprise (or private) cloud. This is both an opportunity and risk for investors and companies who could prosper or suffer through the coming transformation of IT.

In between two panels I caught plenty of hallway conversations about the potential victors of ITs coming transformation; as well as those who will need to embrace new technologies, partners and strategies in order to continue their legacy of success.

At the Interop panel on Monday (on how things can go wrong in the cloud) it was clear that everything still had not been worked out enough to encourage widespread enterprise adoption of cloud. There were issues with security, infrastructure, lock-in and even economics. Yes, cloud was not always cheaper than its enterprise IT counterparts, especially for services used regularly.

For application and infrastructure as a service (now forms of cloud) the cloud computing vine has indeed been fruitful. Yet with much broader and more complex enterprise IT services there are substantial barriers, which we’ve discussed before in 3 Major Barriers.

Forrester analyst James Staten likened some forms of cloud to renting a car when you travel. It makes sense if you travel to a bit occasionally to rent a car for a few days or weeks at a time. Yet renting a car daily for regular use may end up costing you more.

The Fire panel on Infrastructure 2.0 drilled down a bit deeper into the network issues, especially the growing legions of manual processes and clerks required to keep the network available and secure as the population of IP addresses continues to mushroom and virtualization and cloud computing promise even higher velocities of change.

Cisco’s Gourlay predicted that cloud deployed on ill-prepared networks could break the Internet. F5’s Giesa talked about the need to allow application delivery policies to follow mobile systems to ensure proper delivery. VMware’s Thiele discussed new demands on data center managers which will force network shortcomings into the open. Infoblox’s Kagan talked about the core need for core network service automation as a starting point for Infrastructure 2.0.

During the introduction I commented that: “networks today are run like yesterday’s businesses and factories, with legions of …clerks…” I drew a parallel between the rise of automation and supply chain in manufacturing and the coming impact of cloud on IT service delivery. Cisco’s Gourlay coined the term “just-in-time IT services” to describe where cloud is taking IT and the parallel ramifications for companies, jobs and the wealth of nations.

The core cloud/network problem: There are layers of outdated practices that today are extracting volumes of micro-tolls from enterprise networks, simply because they’re usually informal, ad hoc and scattered among units. These practices need to be automated and integrated with each other or the fruits of virtualization and cloud will be minimized in darker clouds of expense, delays and outages. Networks need to be intelligent and able to keep up with the changes ushered in by the automation of systems enterprises are carrying out today. Simon Bisson summarized it well on this IT PRO blog:

Perhaps the most telling piece of the puzzle was one simple phrase: “We need to stop treating IT pros like Victorian file clerks”. It’s a statement that hit home - we do treat our IT pros as glorified clerks, waiting for them to do things by rote. What we really need is an automated infrastructure that flexibly configures itself to deal with the tools, applications and workloads we need to use every day.

Pull apart all the different definitions from all the vendors out there and that’s what Infrastructure 2.0 boils down to. It’s a world we really need to build - if only to show the world just what value IT really brings to business.
- Simon Bisson, IT PRO, May 27, 2009

Similarly, IT pros will have to evolve and transform the physical silos built and maintained today into dynamic pools of data and processing power that can be delivered (almost) everywhere from (almost) anywhere with the same level of security and performance as today. The payoff is substantial. Yet the decades-old legacy of manual labor empires in the network architected decades ago stands in the way.

Moments after the FIRE panel, Dan Lynch (the founder of Interop) approached a few of us and advised that the network management tools and cultures in place today are very similar to those put in place in the early days of the network, before the revolution in business productivity enabled by the network. He was one of the people who created them.

This irony is akin to seeing typewriters in the offices of PC companies. It makes no sense, yet many CIOs haven’t taken a full audit of their scattered, or hidden labor costs and the delays, outages, etc that are directly attributable to outdated practices, from ad hoc scripting to checklists and spreadsheets manually tracking IP addresses.

The Tug of Cloud on the Data Center

Perhaps Art Wittmann (from InformationWeek) best summarized today’s vision tug of war between the leading cloud players and the IT community in a recent “Private Clouds on the Horizon” report (April 2009):

Cloud vendors want to offer you simplicity, and while that makes sense in some instances, IT’s job of both securing data and making it usable for the business is just as complex as it ever was, regardless of which end of the dog you’re looking at.
– Art Wittmann, InformationWeek, April, 2009

In between that billowing mist of simplicity and cost savings, whipped up by a host of emerging cloud applications fueled with the promise of hot-selling netbooks -and the complex and often static world of enterprise IT- are a host of evolutions and revolutions required for cloud to become enterprise-grade. As suggested in Three Barriers to Cloud , security, network management and capacity issues all need to be addressed. There are also others, including semiconductors and applications that may need to be re-architected for new communications and display and power consumption requirements. Storage will also be impacted.

Today I read about the Emerging Technologies Forum hosted by Integrated Archive Systems on June 24 in Mountain View, California. The list of sponsors includes Cisco, F5, VMware and Infoblox, along with NetApp, Microsoft and Sungard. From the looks of it, I think that the I2.0 herd is continuing to form as other voices join the conversation.

Public Companies in the Infrastructure 2.0 Mix

If someone was interested in following public companies well positioned for the evolution to infrastructure 2.0 one would naturally include Cisco, VMware, F5 Networks, Citrix, IBM and Juniper. Notably, Cisco and VMware recently won Best of Interop awards for their infrastructure 2.0 innovations. Amazon, Google, and numerous service providers (including Sungard) could transform the IT services (especially for small and medium businesses) if they can drive the evolution of cloud services and applications and minimize unplanned downtime.

Yet today the revenue impact of cloud on mentioned companies is dwarfed by their core or legacy business revenues.

You could also explore the dynamic infrastructure opportunity based on the nature of its impact on endpoints, from new cloud chip architectures to flash memory players (ala for netbooks) and emerging phone handset players (with larger screens and more complex cloud-based applications) who are well positioned to enter the netbook market with hardware and applications perhaps better suited to the rigors of cloud (versus motherboard) computing.

A Not-So-Wild Idea: OEM Netbooks from a Network Player

As the lines blue between traditional networking players and servers and services I think it is very possible to see a networking player (or even a phone handset player) enter the netbook space. Imagine a netbook with logos from network vendors rather than processor vendors; after all, isn’t that what cloud is all about? It’s the network and service “inside” that really impacts performance, availability, security, etc.

Netbooks could generate brand visibility and help drive more bandwidth demands for network vendors.

A Private Player of Interest

At Future in Review I also saw a cloud application from SIMtone that garnered its fair share of enthusiasm. SIMtone demonstrated a kind of cloud-based portable desktop that can be easily transferred (on demand) from one device to another. I’m tempted to call it a virtual desktop service, for lack of a better term. According to CEO Mario Dal Canto a virtual desktop can be accessed via hyperlink or even a widget.

On the risk side of the infrastructure 2.0 revolution are a host of companies who have successfully monetized the powerful links and silos that exist today between hardware and software and services and various buyers. They are household names, so I don’t need to name them. They will have to balance today’s highly successful formulas and relationships with the ultimate decoupling of those links. They will need to become more nimble and embrace technologies that have perhaps not been core strengths.

Cloud computing poses massive opportunities, as VMware’s Thiele mentioned during the FIRE panel. Who benefits and who stumbles may have much to do with how nimble some of the world’s largest companies are when it comes to balancing short and medium term objectives that are in many ways contradictory. Perhaps that has a lot to do with why many companies become victims of their own success and cannot adapt to rapidly changing markets.

Cloud computing may still be years away from strategic implementation in large enterprise data centers, but it is already casting a long shadow. It was one of the biggest topics at two leading technology events addressing two very distinct IT audiences. Its impact across IT is about to elevate a new crop of startups and perhaps invigorate a few familiar names in the tech industry. And it is likely to rain on the fortunes of others.

I’m a senior director at Infoblox. You can catch my ramblings in real-time via www.twitter.com/archimedius.

FIRE Infrastructure 2.0 Panel – Photo copyright © 2009 by Sandy Huffaker Jr

Infoblox’s Ness (blog author) and Kagan, with VMware’s Thiele, F5’s Giesa and Cisco’s Gourlay

More Stories By Greg Ness

Greg Ness is a Silicon Valley marketing veteran with background in networking, security, virtualization and cloud computing. He is VP Marketing at CloudVelocity. Formerly at Vantage Data Centers, Infoblox, Blue Lane Technologies, Juniper Networks, Redline Networks, McAfee, IntruVerofficer at Networks and ShoreTel. He is one of the world's top cloud bloggers.

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