Expert Clinic - Cumulo Ethernet: Building Ethernet cloud fabrics

With Tony Lock, originally published on The Register


Published/updated: October 2011

One subject that is getting plenty of attention in IT circles is “Cloud” although, truth be told, “Cloud” can be any of a number of different solution types. But with organisations looking at how they might utilise internal, external or hybrid clouds, one matter that cannot be ignored is the networking that will be used to interconnect everything. Are the networks of today ready for the requirements of tomorrow in terms of capacity, performance or security?

As every IT professional is aware, Ethernet was originally designed to handle traffic in a local area network rather than managing data flows across multiple sites or great distances. But over the course of the last two decades Ethernet has been deployed to support an increasingly broad array of protocols and its logical usage has been adapted to support operations across long distances.

So as “Cloud” moves slowly from the realm of the theoretical to the practical, questions are being asked of the network, sometimes for the first time in years. Whatever type of Cloud usage is envisaged, the network will be the glue that holds everything together and allows services to function and users to work. So just what implications will there be on networks as Cloud usage grows?

Perhaps the most obvious area that will need to be looked at concerns how data will be transported across wide area networks (WANs). Most of the protocols that are commonly used in networking, most notably TCP/IP, were, like Ethernet, not designed for use in WANs, and as a consequence can be inefficient when utilised in this context.

To mitigate this, it is highly likely that the use of WAN optimisation and acceleration appliances will grow rapidly, not just as a result of “Cloud” but simply because even in relation to traditional distributed applications, organisations are looking to push more data across long distance communications links. Such devices will combine a number of techniques, including data compression and de-duplication, caching and packet data sizing, amongst others, to mitigate the challenges of moving data across wide area links thereby improving both data capacities and potentially reducing the latency in systems.

Moving from the question of service levels to risk, it will also be interesting to note how quickly organisations investigate whether they or their suppliers of “Cloud services” need to handle Ethernet traffic differently in public service environments or mixed private / public hybrid Clouds.

Many organisations already perceive there to be challenges around the “security” of public Clouds - partly as they will have data that resides beyond their own immediate abilities to manage it directly, and partly as a result of the potential for their systems to be running on systems and networks used by many organisations at once, i.e. in a multi-tenancy setup. For some organisations the answer may be to encrypt all traffic and data moving across networks outside of the business, while others may be comfortable that existing protocols give them all the security they require.

And finally, to make life more interesting, there is every likelihood that the adoption of WAN optimisation across external links along with 10 Gbit/s, 40 Gbit/s and even 100 Gbit/s Ethernet will ramp up in the coming year or two, slowly becoming more ubiquitous. The unwritten rule of networking may then kick in, which says that every step change in performance will give rise to new and inventive ways to use and abuse the additional capacity. High def video embedded in Cloud business applications anyone? Oh, they are there already, but this begs the question of do you actually know what is running on your networks today and what your business users’ plans for tomorrow will bring?

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