Zombies in the Cloud: Hardware Is Dead, Yet Still Alive

Arthur Cole

When it comes to high-speed networking and advanced cloud architectures, the important thing to remember is that these technologies are not cutting-edge just for their own sakes. The real goal is to improve application performance so workers can get more done in a shorter amount of time.


In that regard, it would seem that even the most state-of-the-art network infrastructure will still come up short without a key piece of technology: the application delivery controller (ADC).


As Steve Taylor, president of Distributed Networking Associates, and Jim Metzler, vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates, point out in a recent blog, the ADC will continue to gain in importance as several key trends play out in the enterprise. One is consolidation, which relies on greater use of WAN optimization technologies of all kinds to improve performance over long distances, while another is the increasing use of Web-based applications and interfaces, which can easily bog down performance as the number of objects, and the packets needed to create them, increases.


Traditionally, ADCs have been hardware- (primarily appliance-) based. But lately, we've seen a new generation of software and virtual designs that are giving the hardware platforms a run for their money. Zeus Technology, for instance, recently reported HTTP throughput of 18.2 Gbps per blade after hitching its Traffic Manager system to Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) platform. That's the fastest rate that anyone, hardware or software, has reported so far. Zeus execs claim software implementations allow for greater scalability that better matches the freewheeling environments that users will encounter on the cloud.


Even former hardware vendors are shifting over to software. One of the latest is Blue Coat, which just released its ProxySG system as a virtual appliance under the VMware platform, where it can be loaded onto any commodity server. The system scales up to 300 users and provides a range of features, including remote file access, local e-mail and backup, and support for Windows Server 2008, SharePoint and Exchange 2003 and 2007.


Municipal planners have long recognized that building new roads often lead to temporary relief from traffic congestion, but it isn't long before those gains are lost due to increased traffic. The same principle applies to data networks, as many enterprise managers will attest.


The high-speed network is the equivalent of a new interstate: convenient, yes, but highly chaotic without the right signs and stoplights at the on- and off-ramps.



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