The “cloud” is no longer an enterprise aspiration, but a reality. Unfortunately, reality is messy.
The adoption of cloud services, including fundamental storage and compute functions as well as software-as-a-service applications, has added significant complexity to the business of enterprise IT. There’s no one-size-fits-all type of deployment, and many companies have increasingly gravitated toward a mix of public and private cloud technologies. By implementing a hybrid cloud, companies can gain efficiencies from shared infrastructure while also maintaining control of applications that are too critical to outsource.
As evidence of the growing popularity of hybrid cloud implementations, consider that Research and Markets has predicted that the hybrid cloud market will grow at a compound annual rate of 30% between 2014 and 2018. EMC Corporation also found in a recent survey of more than 10,000 executives that 64% of respondents expressed the need for a hybrid cloud solution.
Despite increased interest and adoption, however, there is still a major performance challenge with hybrid cloud deployments. Enterprise applications and the people who use them don’t operate in neat silos. Everything is linked, and that means cloud infrastructure must be connected too.
The Weak Link
Connectivity is the weak link in many of today’s hybrid clouds. Although companies often want data and applications to live in different places, they face a serious problem when information is inaccessible because the network connections to and from those places are limited. This challenge surfaces not only when employees try to access information from company headquarters, but also when they work from branch offices and other remote locations. For example, many health-care organizations have employees working from a network of hospitals, clinics, and individual physician offices. Many educational institutions have employees located at multiple campuses. And many financial-services firms have employees operating out of different corporate hubs.
Increasingly, businesses are commissioning the build-out of private Ethernet circuits to connect office workers with enterprise data centers. These robust and secure networks reduce or eliminate the amount of time that company data must spend traveling over the public Internet, which means they keep information and applications protected and ensure high performance levels. IDC recently announced that worldwide Ethernet switch revenue hit a record $6.2 billion at the end of 2014 in large part because of enterprise demand. Meanwhile, research firm Vertical Systems Group found that fiber connectivity among multitenant and company-owned buildings with at least 20 employees has nearly quadrupled in the last decade. As of the end of 2014, fiber adoption was at 42.5%.
The market is booming.
Even though enterprise Ethernet adoption is growing, however, that doesn’t mean the connectivity problem is solved. Sometimes there’s no carrier willing to extend Ethernet to every location a business needs to reach. Sometimes there are flexibility or cost constraints in the service-level agreements a carrier is willing to sign. And sometimes just the headache of managing new network infrastructure outweighs the benefits of deployment for a company that needs to remain focused on other priorities.
Network management is one area where a data center vendor can be a valuable partner. Traditionally, multitenant data center (MTDC) companies have served a facilities-management function and little else. But a new class of data center known as the advanced data center (ADC) is now offering greater service depth. Among the services an ADC can offer is network management, which includes everything from the initial requirements gathering and architecture design to management of the carrier relationship and ongoing performance monitoring and optimization. The data center partner in this case owns the relationship with the network provider and deals with any headaches in managing that ongoing engagement.
Outsourced network management is often the best option for an enterprise that needs to operate at web scale. But not all network-management services are equal. To fully realize the potential of a hybrid cloud deployment, companies need high-performance connectivity not only to and from their own private data stores, but also to and from public-cloud service providers.
According to a 2015 report by cloud-management specialist RightScale, enterprise use of public cloud services has grown significantly in the past year. The level of adoption of Amazon’s AWS offering grew from 54% in 2014 to 57% in 2015. That increase wouldn’t sound like much except for the fact that Amazon’s volume of business in the cloud-infrastructure space is more than four times that of its nearest competitor. In other words, the company’s cloud business is already huge and still growing. In addition to the 57% cited by RightScale as already using AWS, another 24% said they were experimenting with or planning to use the service.
Meanwhile, second-place Microsoft with its Azure cloud service doubled its adoption number from 6% in 2014 to 12% in 2015. Another 29% showed interest in adopting Azure.
The public side of the hybrid cloud is where many MTDC vendors fall short. Some of these multitenant data center providers try to keep as much of their customers’ data in their own facilities as possible, believing that by connecting out to public-cloud providers they risk losing revenue. That belief is short-sighted, however, and, more importantly, highly limiting to the customers they serve.
To achieve the full benefits of the hybrid cloud, companies need guaranteed performance levels across both the publicly and privately hosted portions of their IT infrastructure. New advanced data centers provide the necessary connections between their facilities and any customer site, but also between their facilities and the data center hubs of public-cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft. By managing the entire network function and implementing service-level agreements throughout the infrastructure footprint, an ADC can bring cost predictability and performance assurance to any hybrid cloud.
Data centers are at the heart of enterprise IT, but—of equal importance—broadband networks are the critical arteries that keep information flowing. As hybrid cloud deployments continue to spread, the networks that connect data centers will only grow in importance. The stronger those connections, the better for any cloud-based business.
About the Author
Peter B. Ritz is chief executive officer, director and cofounder of Keystone NAP and is responsible for overall strategy and execution, with emphasis on driving sales activities. Peter is a veteran technology executive and entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to working with emerging technology companies, helping launch, grow and advise many successful startups. Most recently, he spent five years as president and managing director of Xtium, an enterprise cloud software and solutions company he cofounded, helping grow the company from its first $6.5 million five-year customer agreement to doubling the recurring revenue in 2012 and building a world-class, motivated team supported by $13.5 million in growth funding. During this tenure, Peter served on the VMware (NYSE: VMW) cloud-services Advisory Board, helping design pricing and go-to-market for the managed-services business model to compete with Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Rackspace (NYSE: RAX). Earlier, Peter was chief executive of Ntera, a nanotechnology ink and digital-display provider, and president and cofounder of AirClic, an interactive print and mobile-process automation SaaS company. He was also a venture partner with Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, a venture-management company, and a managing director and cofounder of Silicon Stemcell, a technology incubator, with earlier roots working for Ikon Technology Services (purchased by Ricoh), British Telecom and Sprint International as well as tenures in Europe, Latin America and South East Asia. Peter also practiced intellectual-property law as a registered patent attorney and trial lawyer. He graduated with honors from the University of Maryland with two engineering degrees, computer science and biochemistry, molecular biology. Peter is an inventor on 29 patents and has created over 250 high-tech jobs.