WAN Optimization for the Cloud

Arthur Cole

Virtualization and the cloud have kicked the deployment of distributed architectures into high gear, and that means enterprises have a greater interest than ever in the performance of other companies' infrastructure.

A crucial component in all this is the wide area network (WAN), which has come under increasing pressure as the use of cloud services mounts. No longer is the WAN simply a tool for keeping data transmission rates under control at branch offices and disparate corporate campuses; it now forms the lynchpin for regional, even global, data architectures.

With increased reliance, however, comes increased scrutiny. As it turns out, the WAN needs to evolve an entirely new infrastructure if it is to serve as the conduit for cloud services, according to InformationWeek's Greg Ferro. Current hub-and-spoke designs will likely continue to serve private clouds, but public ones will need a much more distributed model better suited to their dynamic nature. This has only become more critical in the past year or so as carrier services continue their struggle to keep up with the demand for new services, with many enterprises struggling to provision enough bandwidth for wide area Fibre Channel and Ethernet environments.

This may be part of the reason we're seeing a number of WAN optimization developers flock to the virtualization and cloud management layers in recent months. Silver Peak, for example, recently integrated its platform into VMware vCenter where it is expected to overcome the latency and traffic congestion issues that arise when moving virtual machines across great distances. By enabling the Virtual Acceleration Open Architecture (VXOA) platform as a plug-in for vCenter, IT admins gain the ability to provision and manage workloads with a single user interface and more easily coordinate traffic flows across virtual and cloud environments. Silver Peak is hoping to foster a similar relationship with the Citrix XenCenter and Microsoft virtual management platforms in the near future.

Meanwhile, Riverbed Technology is working with VMware to shore up wide area capabilities for virtual data center (VDC) and software-defined networking (SDN). The arrangement includes support for the VXLAN network overlay system on the Riverbed Cascade platform as a means to provide application-aware network capabilities in SDN deployments. As well, the Steelhead Cloud Edition software will be integrated into VMware's Cloud Director system for simplified deployment, configuration and management of WAN-as-a-Service offerings. And to top it off, the companies will co-develop a new VXLAN-aware Internet Protocol Flow Information Export (IPFIX) format that should provide greater control over SDN architectures.

These moves are evidence of the growing recognition that the once clear lines between LAN and WAN infrastructure will have to blur if we are to realize the advantages of cloud computing and advanced architectures like SDN. With platforms like vCloud aiming for no less than completely virtualized, pooled and automated data centers in the cloud, top-notch coordination with WAN optimization is a must. By fostering traffic control policies and other optimization techniques directly on a virtual switch, fully optimized WAN services can accompany virtual machines no matter where they are hosted.

WAN optimization used to sit comfortably apart from the intricacies of the data environments they handled, ensconced in their own appliances usually on the network edge. The cloud is a completely different animal, however, with network pathways, connections and systems relationships in a constant state of flux. For this reason, future optimization must hit the cloud on a much more granular level, providing up-close-and-personal service to a wide variety of applications, services and data loads.

If done right, optimization should be both more effective and less costly than anything that has gone before.



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