Having spent the last several columns looking in depth into why MPLS is no longer the only answer for building enterprise WANs, this time let's go up a few thousand feet and look at the bigger picture, before any further dives down into the details.
"The cloud" is happening. We'll leave aside for the moment exactly what "the cloud" means, as it tends to mean different things to different people, but I think readers here have at least a "kinda sorta" understanding of what it is. As it relates to wide area networks and enterprise IT, let's go for now with Gartner's definition of cloud "as a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using Internet technologies."
How quickly "the cloud" happens for the enterprise overall is still very much an open question. How quickly it happens for any given enterprise is also unknown.
It is clear to me that "the cloud" is enabling the Next-generation Enterprise WAN (NEW) architecture. It is also clear to me that this NEW architecture will accelerate the adoption of public cloud computing, including SaaS, and hybrid cloud computing by early adopter and early majority enterprises.
Last decade, the trend towards data center consolidation for individual enterprises started in earnest. Server virtualization and WAN Optimization were adopted quickly because of this data center consolidation trend, and also caused data center consolidation to happen more quickly. There were very good economic, technical and regulatory reasons why data center consolidation began to happen, and likely would have happened anyway even without these two technologies. With them, a good thing (data center consolidation) became better and easier to do, could be more easily justified and deployed, and therefore happened that much more quickly. A classic case of 1 + 1 = 3.
Not coincidentally, server virtualization and WAN Optimization are two of the key technologies of the NEW architecture. Three other technologies – distributed/replicated file service, and especially colocation and WAN Virtualization – are also needed for enterprise IT to be able to leverage SaaS, public clouds and hybrid clouds the same way they have private data centers for the last 15 years, and in particular to be able to use Internet connectivity as more than just a "best efforts" network to connect users to applications and services in the cloud. With the NEW architecture enabling reliable, predictable cloud access, the enterprise WAN itself is made higher performance, lower cost and more reliable and predictable, in turn enabling newer applications that were not practical previously. 1 + 1 = 3.
The Internet connectivity needed for accessing "the cloud" can be used to augment and/or replace expensive MPLS connections, so enterprises can take advantage of all the service provider investment in consumer Internet and wireless networks, without sacrificing reliability or performance predictability, as they would if they had to rely on the unaided Internet alone. Internet access and network-level security can be centralized for simplicity of management and lower capital costs, without sacrificing application performance. 1 + 1 = 3.
In upcoming columns I plan to go into more detail about how at the technology level, not just the business benefits level, the various key technologies that make up the NEW architecture have that 1 + 1 = 3 effect to make each other more useful and more valuable as we move inexorably towards "the cloud" having a continually greater impact on enterprise computing.
A twenty-five year data networking veteran, Andy founded Talari Networks, a pioneer in WAN Virtualization technology, and served as its first CEO, and is now vice president of product management at Aryaka Networks, the pioneer in offering WAN Optimization as a Service. Andy is the author of an upcoming book on Next-generation Enterprise WANs.