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The cloud needs a new type of network optimization

Network optimization has been left behind in the rise of the cloud.

Cloud computing network optimization

Typically, most technology trends go through a period of when they are way over-hyped, to the point that the technology never reaches the crescendo of expectations. Think of trends like Voice over IP (VoIP) or virtualization. These eventually became mainstream, but they took a lot longer than originally anticipated.

One exception to this rule has been the cloud. Cloud computing took off like a rocket and has stayed on that high growth trajectory for years. The cloud has had a profound impact on the entire IT industry – from the way we build data centers to the way we procure and pay for services. In fact, it’s changed the way network equipment providers build the underlying technology that powers the cloud and gave rise to a number of new companies in a very mature industry. 

One area of IT that has yet to evolve and become aligned with the cloud is network optimization. There are many ways of optimizing network traffic today, and they all work great for the purpose they were built for. But none of them are cloud-aligned.

Consider the following optimization techniques:

  • Content delivery networks (CDNs). CDNs are widely deployed today and optimize over half the traffic on the Internet. However, CDNs were designed for cacheable content that is meant for download only. This is the primary reason CDNs haven’t had a tremendous amount of success with real-time content service providers, such as streaming media providers. Also, CDNs aren’t designed to improve the performance of any kind of personalized content. Gaming, online medical records, and other cloud apps are becoming increasingly individualized, making this a key requirement.
  • WAN Optimization. It’s hard to think of another technology that had the steep adoption ramp that WAN optimization did. It was easy to deploy, dropped into existing networks, and had an immediate impact on applications like Windows file services and Microsoft Exchange. The problem with WAN optimization, though, is that it’s designed for an era when almost all business traffic was on a private network. The cloud, obviously, runs partially on-net but primarily over the public Internet.
  • Quality of service/Class of service. Both QoS and CoS were developed for segmenting traffic based on priority level. QoS works at an individual application level where class of service is a bit broader and buckets several applications into a single “class.” Both QoS and CoS are widely used today, but again, they work best on private networks and don’t actually fix network problems. They put traffic into individual “lanes,” but if the network is poorly designed or if the application isn’t network-friendly, QoS and CoS won’t have much impact.
  • Network protocols. Routing protocols evolved very rapidly in the 80s and 90s. RIP, EIGRP, OSPF and BPG all improved the way traffic is routed around the Internet. BPG is, by far, the most commonly deployed network protocol today and is used by almost every service provider and large enterprise. However, BGP is only one step ahead and chooses the most reliable and stable path, rather than the one that offers the best performance. I know there have been technologies to alter BGP based on performance, but the issue needs to be a problem for a long period of time before a BGP route is changed.

Cloud traffic itself has changed significantly over the past half decade. Streaming video is more dynamic, content is highly personalized, and upstream and downstream traffic are equally important. Network overlay solutions, such as NSX from VMware, are heading in the right direction, but similar to the technologies above, they only address part of the solution. It’s time for network optimization to evolve and become aligned with the cloud like almost every other part of IT has.

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