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John Keller

Director, Product Management of Comcast Business

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How’s Your Bandwidth? Getting the Network Ready for Cloud Computing

January 06, 2017

Cloud services are transformative, but to reap the benefits, specific prep work is necessary to make your network cloud-ready.

Although business leaders still wrangle with issues of security and control when deciding to adopt cloud services, making the decision is probably the easiest part. After all, everybody wants the boost in business agility the cloud delivers.

But before you can enjoy the application performance and overall IT efficiency gains provided by the cloud, you’ll need to assess whether you have the bandwidth to handle increased data traffic between your network and the cloud infrastructure. And that is arguably the bigger challenge.

Without cloud services, enterprises handle their workloads in-house. Internet connections exist primarily for email, web navigation and ecommerce, so from a bandwidth perspective, the focus is at the core of the network where the heavy lifting occurs. Deploy the fattest pipe and robust infrastructure at the core, and you’re good to go.

The cloud, however, shifts the bandwidth focus to connections between the network and the cloud infrastructure. While email and ecommerce can put a significant burden on internet connections, it pales in comparison to when you transfer data storage to the cloud, replace business-critical applications with SaaS and tap a hosted database somewhere in the ether. Suffice it to say that a basic internet connection won’t be sufficient in most cases. At the enterprise level, you’ll need dedicated private lines to get appropriate levels of service.

Which begs the question: Is your network ready to handle that kind of shift?

It’s an easy guess that legacy networks probably lack sufficient bandwidth for the added traffic in and out of the network. So if you transfer IT resources to the cloud without addressing bandwidth requirements, you’re in for some rough seas. Performance issues are bound to frustrate users and cause you to question why you ever made the move in the first place.

You might get some guidance in this regard from your cloud services provider, but determining how much connectivity to add is primarily an internal endeavor. However, your connectivity provider will be in a position to help, so it makes sense to enlist their support early in the process.

Network Assessment
Before moving any workloads to a cloud infrastructure, a comprehensive assessment of network capabilities and bandwidth requirements is in order. A good place to start is to determine bandwidth demands for IP addresses, department and branch, as well as the overall organization.  You must take into account current demands and project how they will change once you transition to cloud services.

You also need to look at each application’s data requirements. Some applications are pretty stingy with network resources, while others may require more bandwidth than you realize. The better you understand each application’s requirements, the more likely you are to make the right bandwidth decisions.

Assessing data needs isn’t all about volume; you’ll also need to address an area that directly affects user productivity: latency. Users can’t reach ideal productivity levels if they have to wait too long for applications and web pages to load.

Insufficient bandwidth can cause high latency, but other possible causes include congested routers, distances between routers and firewall issues, to name a few. So you’ll want to evaluate all of these areas to prevent any latency problems when it’s time to turn on your cloud services.

Setting Priorities
In determining bandwidth requirements, you’ll need to consider data prioritization and load balancing. Getting this right requires taking into account factors such as user location, application response times, and traffic fluctuations based on time of day and geography. Load balancing can get tricky, especially at distributed enterprises with locations across multiple time zones. But it’s not impossible.

Load-balancing solutions are currently available in the market, and they are becoming more and more sophisticated. And as networks move toward a software-defined approach (SDN), load balancing will become an automated process. But even with automation, load balancing will require careful planning and assessment so that bandwidth is allocated properly.

Pilot Testing
Once you’ve completed an assessment to determine bandwidth needs, you’ll want to work with your connectivity provider to set up the connections for the cloud services you plan to deploy. Before going full bore, however, be sure to conduct a pilot test.

Testing is the best way to prevent future issues by giving you an opportunity to work out any kinks. Minor problems that are missed in the pre-deployment phase can turn into major headaches later. And the cost of fixing them post-implementation is much higher.

Cloud services are transformative, and as such, they can turn your organization into a more agile and competitive businesses. But you can’t achieve that without doing the necessary prep work to make your network cloud-ready. A major component of that is to make sure your network is right-sized and optimized to tap into the cloud.

Photo credit: incredibleguy via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

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