Are there any (Computing) Clouds on the Horizon?

Over the last few months and even years you could hardly have failed to have heard mention of cloud computing. But what exactly is it, and how relevant is it for network engineers?

Depending on the person you talk to, the day of the week, and possibly the phase of the moon, you receive a different definition of cloud computing. This is probably due to the fact that cloud computing is a concept rather than a specific technology. It refers to applications, software, and infrastructure provided as a service over the Internet (or perhaps corporate network).

So much for the concept, but what probably interests you most is how cloud computing relates to us as network professionals. Specifically, whether it will dramatically impact us in the short term, or whether it is something that we'll only really need to grapple with in the medium to long term. You might also be interested in the technologies that may be deployed in data center and other networks in order to support cloud computing services.

I personally believe that in the short term the impact on most of us will be relatively minor. Of course, companies such as Microsoft (with Azure) and Amazon (with EC2) are already providing cloud computing services, but there are a number of issues such as quality of service, security, bandwidth, and even government regulations that are currently hindering wider adoption of these services.

In the medium to longer term, however, I think these issues will be addressed and cloud computing will become pretty pervasive. Why do I think this? Well, because cloud computing could lead to pretty large cost savings, and there is very little that CEOs and stock holders like more than large cost savings (and concomitantly larger profits [or smaller losses!]).

As to what technologies might be deployed in support of cloud computing, I think that a lot of them already exist. The cloud in cloud computing refers, of course, to the Internet or corporate networks (including data center networks), and I won't be surprised to see Cisco routers, switches, firewalls, and other network devices continuing to play a significant role in these networks in the long term. The difference that I see is that these routers, switches, firewalls, and other devices will need to be much more reliable, secure, and scalable. In addition, we are going to need tools that will allow the dynamic provisioning of network, server, and storage resources (in geographically dispersed data centers) depending on the overall load and type of load that is being placed on these resources.

So, what products has Cisco currently got that will help to enable cloud computing services? Well, I think devices such as the Nexus switches, CRS-1 routers, and other similarly well-designed devices will fulfill a lot of requirements in terms of availability, performance, and so on, and will help service providers to address some of the concerns relating to cloud computing. In addition, Cisco has the VFrame product, which can help enterprises deploy the resources necessary to enable cloud services.

Anyway, so much for my thoughts - I had a chat with Doug Gourlay, Senior Director, Data Center Business Unit at Cisco to get his take on this interesting subject. You can listen by clicking here.


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