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Network Optimization Key to Cloud Transition

Agencies that transition their IT operations to the cloud without also upgrading their network infrastructure could end up with some unhappy end-users.

That’s because for all the benefits of cloud computing, the approach can create problems with bandwidth and latency that can undermine application performance. The key to success, agencies will soon discover, is network optimization.

It’s not something that many agencies have so far had to grapple with. Despite the Obama Administration’s Cloud First mandate, under which agencies are directed to default to cloud-based solutions for IT needs “whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists,” very few have made the move.

According to a recent 1105 Government Information Group survey of federal, state and local government IT professionals, only 5 percent of respondents said their agencies had fully moved their applications to the cloud. However, the momentum is clear, with another 13 percent saying the move was under way, and just under half of the rest saying their agencies were studying or planning for the cloud.

The same survey also showed that many government organizations were already deploying or considering tools to help them better manage cloud-based network performance. Wide area network (WAN) optimization appliances had either been deployed, or were in line to be deployed, by nearly half of the respondents.

The WAN is critical, because data is continually being sent from the cloud to widely-distributed users, and those data transfers have to compete with growing demand across the WAN for real-time applications such as voice and video.

It’s possible that agencies can use the existing equipment they have to optimize the WAN with certain cloud services. If they use software-as-a service (SaaS), for example, routers and servers could be configured to allow for bandwidth shaping that will give precedence over the SaaS data over network traffic deemed less critical.

“[With SaaS], you have the ability within some types of optimizers to prioritize the performance of core enterprise SaaS on your enterprise link,” said John Burke, an analyst with Nemertes Research. “That allows you to improve the performance and reliability of the SaaS solutions by giving priority, say, over recreational Web browsing.”

Likewise, he said, if you are using Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) in the cloud, you can opt to make the use of bandwidth between internal and external resources as efficient as possible with optimization. That can help with bandwidth and error correction and provide additional buffers against data loss and other performance considerations.

Even if an agency opts for a managed cloud service, in which it has no control over the technology offered, optimization still has a role to play, Burke said. For example, an agency might instantiate a virtual optimizer and get benefits of improved performance from that.

In a hybrid cloud environment, in which traffic between the internal and external cloud must be optimized, providers that offer bridge solutions also should provide for optimization as a way to improve communications and prioritize traffic between the two kinds of clouds.

There are potential problems. Since WAN optimization products use proprietary compression and decompression algorithms, the optimization appliance used by a cloud service provider might not match up with an agency’s own technology. But agencies need to match things at the end of the link between the cloud and their own systems, so compromises may have to be made.

As long as that issue can be addressed, agencies can use their own WAN optimization alliances for the cloud, if they have them, since underlying communication protocols apply equally to both the WAN and the cloud.

Overall, said Burke, “there’s definitely an evolving role for optimization technologies as the enterprise focus shifts to include a lot more cloud solutions.”