5 questions to consider as you shift more business critical applications to the cloud

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This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

The migration to the cloud is well underway. More than half of the CIOs polled at last year’s Gartner Symposium IT Expo said they would be employing a cloud-first strategy moving forward. Verizon’s State of the Market: Enterprise Cloud 2016report found that 84% of enterprises say their cloud usage has increased in the past year, and half of enterprises said they will use cloud for at least 75% of their workloads by 2018. Even more telling, half of the respondents use two to four cloud providers.

Whether you’re looking to move to the cloud, considering the diversification of your cloud portfolio or simply looking to compare performance and value across clouds, consider these five key questions before making any decisions:

* How do you monitor your Internet infrastructure? While you may be monitoring your internal infrastructure and applications, what information do you have about external Internet connections your customers rely on to connect to your business? If connections to a specific datacenter go down or a cloud provider can’t reach important markets, your System Admin should have the tools necessary to route traffic to another center to keep your services operational. And if you’re experiencing latency or quality degradation, your IT team must know how to monitor for these issues and how to optimize performance.

Another thing to consider is knowing your “mean time to innocence” - how to quickly and with precision determine whether a customer-impacting issue is the result of your application, data or compute environment, or an issue with Internet routing, outages or a cloud/SAAS provider.  While cloud providers, CDNs and acceleration services may claim to be "always up" that does not mean they're always reachable by your customers.

* If you are a global company, how do you ensure global availability on the cloud?  If you have end-users accessing your Internet assets at all hours of the day from points around the globe, you need to ensure your end-user experience is equal no matter where or when a customer accesses your website, app or content. Determining availability means understanding if your service is available to customers and partners. This is especially important to understanding the connection performance to your selected cloud providers and CDNs.

A 2015 Google cloud outage which lasted for almost two hours was related to a software issue inside its virtual network traffic routing. If your business was using a single cloud instance and a Google cloud client and you were not monitoring for network-wide availability, you would have experienced this outage and your availability would have been impacted. 

So how does your business ensure that you have strong availability no matter the condition of the Internet locally or in a region halfway around the world? Distributing hosting on multiple cloud vendor sites protects customers from single site or single regional outages. It is also recommended that you monitor your global network to determine load levels. Should you notice performance issues, there are tools available to balance these loads and ensure that availability remains strong regardless of the time, day or situation.

* Is using just one cloud provider sufficient or should you consider using multiple providers?  While not all cloud providers are created equal, using multiple services is the only foolproof business continuity and risk mitigation strategy. It also can be an effective strategy to manage cloud costs based on peak usage, cost spikes and global load balancing.

Using a variety of CSPs gives your company access to multiple cloud instances (locations), allowing you to meet customer in local markets and leverage local connections. Using an advanced DNS-based Traffic Management solution with geo-location, you can control which cloud instances serve which customers, and by working with the right tools you can manage this from one place.

Working with multiple clouds gives your business more flexibility and value, allowing you to scale and deliver an always-on impression. The ability to access different pathways also comes in handy when there are outages or slow load times—whether due to a traffic routing problem or a malicious attack. Working with multiple providers will help you circumvent these issues by rerouting traffic as quickly as possible to ensure minimal interruption. As an added bonus, having multiple CSPs can help protect against problems before they even occur by allowing you to deploy apps and services to two (or more) cloud instances so they can back each other up using a global load balancing or failover architecture.

* What are the biggest risks to optimal Internet performance?  The biggest risk is simply in not knowing the real-time state of your performance - where are the Internet latency issues, what is global availability and reachability like and how is the real world performance of end-users. Between the time a potential customer enters a domain and a page opens, a tremendous amount happens. Errors can occur within the network, at the CDN or ISP level, with your SAAS providers or with a customer connection. A Website can be slow for many reasons as well, and most consumers—and companies, for that matter—have little insight into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their performance issues.

Pipeline failures, routing anomalies, latencies, packet loss, security threats (like man-in-the-middle attacks and DDoS) are just a few of the common risks to a smoothly operating network. Understanding your connections—and monitoring, controlling and optimizing them—is the true test of Internet performance and in understanding and mitigating against weak spots in your network.

* How do I keep my site up in the event of an outage?  Outages are game changing for your business and they happen with surprising regularity - upwards of 3,000 times every day on the global Internet. And it is difficult for most companies to detect an Internet connection failure without a way to measure between your customers and your assets.

Constant monitoring of your Internet-facing architecture is the only true way to ensure you will not be affected by outages for a prolonged period. If you cannot properly detect outages your business will not be in position to manage a response, mitigating the risk in a loss of sales, revenue and brand confidence and loyalty. Working with the right partner with true visibility into your infrastructure will allow you to mitigate the risk of an outage, not only by identifying it before or during a disruption and making near instantaneous rerouting decisions.

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