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The Benefits of Cloud Networking

Enable cloud networking to lower IT costs and boost IT productivity

The pressure for organizations, in the public or private sector, to reduce costs is constant. At the same time, organizations have to remain or improve user productivity in all their departments to stay competitive. This is even further magnified during a recovering economy as organizations face challenges of sustaining or growing revenue from customers or even government. Management and shareholders are always on the lookout to reduce their expenses. Innovative technology is one area where companies can look into to help to lower expenses with efficiency gains.

Specifically with respect to technology, many companies are taking advantage of the cloud to help with reducing expenditures while simultaneously improving productivity.

Cloud Service Applications
These days, there is a lot of publicity around the "cloud" and how many companies, regardless of vertical or whether they're public or private, are using cloud technologies. It's important to quickly define what the cloud is before getting into more details.

At its basic level, cloud computing service refers to the delivery of software, infrastructure, or storage via the Internet in real-time and can be accessed by any device with Internet capability at any time and anywhere.

As opposed to traditionally having computing resources in house, cloud computing service provides a huge upside and workload shift from IT departments. They no longer have to spend significant money on purchasing dedicated hardware to run business applications. In addition, the time spent on configuring, maintaining, and updating is eliminated as well as taking up space. Cloud providers take care of this entire burden.

Cloud services can be up and running in significantly less time than traditional installations, and in general, they cost less. With a cloud service, you just open a browser, log in, customize the app, and start using it. For example, most of us already use some form of cloud service today such as Web-based email service from Gmail or file storage services such as Dropbox or iCloud. In addition, with the rapid growth of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), cloud services enable users with their own personal mobile device to instantly access the application from anywhere and at any time.

At its core, there are six key characteristics of cloud services in general.

On-demand self-service - End users can provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring the involvement of IT staff.

Broad network access - Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard devices including laptops and mobile devices.

Resource pooling - Computing resources are pooled to serve multiple end users with different physical and virtual resources (storage, CPUs, memory, network bandwidth, and virtual machines) that are dynamically assigned based on demand.

Elasticity - Capabilities can be rapidly provisioned, to quickly scale out and scale in.

Measured service - Resource use is automatically controlled and optimized through metering, and resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported to both the provider and end user of the utilized service.

Multi-Tenancy - Shared resources serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.

Cloud Networking
Cloud networking is the next wave of cloud services and represents a fundamental shift in how IT services are provided to users.

Historically, a company's own IT department acquired, deployed, and maintained networking applications such as network management software. Such new applications often requires purchase of additional hardware such as servers needed to be deployed and run the application as well. This leads to not only more capital expenditures, but also the increased support time that must be devoted by IT personnel. IT departments are already stretched thin at a company's headquarter location. When trying to deploy and maintain networking equipment and applications in distributed sites, the costs and support time needed by IT is compounded even further.

Cloud networking introduces a new way to roll out distributed enterprise networks. It delivers enterprise-class network capabilities via an application that requires little or no capital investment in networking equipment. Unlike traditional hardware-based legacy solutions, cloud networking is extremely simple, enabling enterprises to deploy locations in minutes and operate their distributed networks via a cloud-based application, while providing unprecedented levels of centralized control and network visibility. Cloud networking is usually subscription based as well reducing any upfront capital costs.

Public cloud networking and private cloud networking are two distinct services. Public cloud networking is when a cloud provider makes networking applications available to IT users over the Internet with little to no deployment needed at the company's IT infrastructure. Public cloud networking services are also offered on a pay-per-usage model. Private cloud networking services refer to a proprietary computing networking architecture that provides hosted services to a limited number of people behind a firewall. For example, a company's internal IT department using a private cloud infrastructure essentially hosts applications within their own private network and provides them to their own IT users.

State of Cloud Services Market
Cloud services being used by companies are becoming as ubiquitous as using mobile devices. Cloud services, including those focused on cloud networking, are becoming more and more an essential part of an organization's service to its users and this is only expected to grow. Enterprises are even retiring applications that were once run on their own network for cloud-based services according to Gartner's latest findings on SaaS usage. Take a look at some of the forecast data and analyst feedback.

According to IDC's forecast on cloud IT spending, worldwide spending on public IT cloud services will be more than $40 billion in 2012 and is expected to approach $100 billion in 2016. From 2012-2016, public IT cloud services will enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 26.4%, five times that of the IT industry overall, as companies accelerate their shift to the cloud services model for IT consumption.

"The IT industry is in the midst of an important transformative period as companies invest in the technologies that will drive growth and innovation over the next two to three decades," said Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC. "By the end of the decade, IDC expects at least 80% of the industry's growth, and enterprises' highest-value leverage of IT, will be driven by cloud services and the other 3rd Platform technologies."

According to Gartner's IT spending report, enterprise spending on public cloud services will grow from $91 billion worldwide in 2011 to $109 billion in 2012. And by 2016, enterprise public cloud services spending will reach $207 billion.

Ed Anderson, research director at Gartner, states ""Cloud computing is now at the point where technology has demonstrated its usefulness as an approach to the management of several IT resources".

Specifically related to SaaS, this area of cloud services will grow from $14.5 billion market in 2012 to $22.1 billion by 2015. The 2015 figure is an increase of almost $1 billion from the prediction Gartner made last year. This further demonstrates the rapid growth of cloud services use by companies worldwide.

Fears/concerns with Cloud Networking
Cloud networking is rapidly being adopted by IT groups within enterprises. However, there are always concerns by IT teams that need to be addressed.

Security - This is usually the top fear by IT managers when considering any cloud networking service. Most IT managers are concerned about controlling access of their sensitive data that would reside in the cloud and can't afford the data being compromised. Despite the macro trend of moving to the cloud, some IT managers may still be more comfortable with their data deployed on their own infrastructure. This fear can easily be alleviated by cloud networking providers clearly stating their physical security specifications of their data centers as well as other security certifications they have attained. Cloud networking providers must also assure their IT customers that only customers will have access to data & only customers can make changes to it.

Privacy - Another key concern of IT management is maintaining privacy of their networking data in the cloud. IT departments need to be assured that their data is not being monitored either internally within the cloud provider or by any outside hackers. For example, if an IT client can log in from any location to access data and applications, it's possible the IT client's privacy could be compromised. However, cloud networking providers adopt myriad ways to protect privacy such as using comprehensive authentication techniques and encryption methods.

High Availability - Ensuring high availability of data in the cloud is another fear of organizations. This is especially important for cloud networking as a company's IT department must keep their end-users happy and make certain the company's business can't be affected with any downtime. IT users are looking for some form of guarantee from providers that their networking data will be up at all times. A service level agreement (SLA) that states 99.99%, ("four nines"), for example, uptime of the cloud service is necessary to put this fear to rest. Cloud networking providers must also clearly state their resiliency details such as how they have redundancy and backup measures in place for the utmost availability of data.

Poor Application Performance - Another inhibitor of deploying cloud networking pertains to poor application performance. Companies can't afford to have their IT users becoming less productive while a page load times exceed several seconds, for instance when they need to use a cloud networking application. Cloud networking providers have to continuously monitor usage to make sure any application being accessed by their IT users is being delivered in no more than a few seconds.

Compliance - Many IT departments have to face regulatory compliance measures in order for their companies to stay in business. Some of these compliance measures could be HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), or Sarbanes-Oxley. Companies that to have comply with such measures fear moving to the cloud. Cloud networking providers must be transparent in sharing details such as encryption methods being used, provide the capability of generating audit reports, or state the locations of their data centers.

Business Continuity - IT users also have concerns about recovering their data from the cloud quickly in case of a man-made or a natural disaster. If they use cloud networking, IT needs to know how often backups happen (i.e., hourly or daily), where they happen, and how long data is archived if at all from cloud networking providers. This fear can actually be mitigated as using cloud networking would actually be an efficient means of backing up networking data. Instead of purchasing additional expensive networking gear in house for backing up & storing data, a cloud networking provider for this capability would be more cost-effective.

Localization - Finally, IT departments may have concerns about using a cloud networking provider that may only reside in one region like the United States. Often, if IT users reside in EMEA and/or APAC, they would like cloud networking services to reside in their local region. The rationale of having cloud networking localized could be due to local government rules or even comfort reasons of having a localized service. Most cloud networking providers understand this concern and have localized data centers in the major regions of North America, EMEA, and APAC.

Over ten years ago, there were fears about using online banking and how secure it was to use. People were concerned about paying bills online, moving funds between accounts, and even simply checking their statements online. But they realized that bank companies have it in their best interest to ensure their customers would feel safe using their online services. Now, according to comScore, 1 in 4 Internet users access online banking sites globally. That represents over 423 million people. Banks put in place strict security measures, ensure high availability of their service, and make sure their customers' account information is always backed up in case of any disruptions. Today, cloud networking providers are following similar procedures to help their IT users stay comfortable with their service offerings.

Benefits Realized with Cloud Networking
While there are fears of using cloud networking, the fact is that networking applications are moving to the cloud. This is not just a fad and the momentum is gaining. Companies realize that there are many benefits of deploying cloud networking.

Lower Costs - According to the 2012 Cloud Networking Report by Dr. Jim Metzler, lower costs were identified as the primary driver for IT's interest in using SaaS-based services. The reasons are obvious. With cloud networking, companies would have lower capital expenditures as opposed to purchasing all their own equipment and software. In addition, there is no worry about purchasing upgrades on hardware or software; the cloud networking provider takes care of this. Cloud networking is based on a pay-per-use model and payments will usually be monthly or yearly. Cloud networking is also considered a green solution since no rack space is used and hence it results in lower utility costs.

Fast Deployment - Another major benefit of cloud networking is faster deployment instead of purchasing and installing your own networking equipment. Many cloud networking applications such as network management can be turned on within a few days, hours, or even minutes depending on the provider. Using cloud networking lets IT users quickly utilize new applications without spending time installing and configuring networking equipment.

Productivity - By using cloud networking, the in-house IT staff can be offloaded to focus on other tasks. IT doesn't have to worry about configuration or any maintenance updates associated with cloud networking service; this is fully taken care of by the cloud provider. IT's productivity will go up while any of their administration costs will go down.

Mobility - Since cloud networking applications are typically Web-based, IT users can access their networking related data at any time and from anywhere using any device with Internet capability. IT users don't have to be tied to their desks. Along with the continuous growth of BYOD, IT users can take advantage of their personal mobile devices to access cloud networking applications and increase their productivity while they're on the road, roaming the office, or at home.

Instant Scalability - The ability to quickly add capacity is a huge benefit with cloud networking. Instead of IT procuring more networking hardware and/or software in house for their additional end-users and waiting weeks or months to be up and running, cloud networking providers can quickly enable their IT customers to add more of their end-users instantly, sometimes within minutes.

Minimal Downtime - Updates related to cloud networking applications as well as any networking infrastructure updates are handled by the cloud provider. There is no need for the company's in house IT department to worry about this and they don't have to bring the internal network down for updates. This is a tremendous advantage of using cloud networking since there is no downtime that could affect business.

Great Security - Ironically, security, which is one of the greater fears of using cloud networking, is actually a big advantage offered by cloud networking vendors. Most providers have stringent security policies for their cloud networking offerings. Encryption and authentication, data loss prevention, physical security of data centers, firewall implementation, and malware protection are just a few of the security features commonly provided by cloud networking providers. Ultimately, they have it in their best interest to protect IT customers' data and ensure long-term loyalty.

As described in this article, cloud networking is definitely an emerging technology being used by IT departments worldwide. IT users are running various networking apps in the cloud, like VoIP, network management, unified communications, virtual desktops, and more. Many organizations have devoted their IT spending now and certainly in the future to take advantage of cloud networking as they realize the benefits it can bring.

IT departments see how cloud networking enables them to become more agile and save costs. Even when the economy recovers fully, cloud networking will remain an area to help IT managers reduce their capital expenses and offload their department to focus on other critical tasks. In addition, cloud networking goes hand-in-hand with the BYOD trend. As users in general continue to use their own personal mobile devices for corporate network access, IT users will also certainly use those devices to access any cloud networking applications as well.

More Stories By Manish Desai

Manish Desai is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Aerohive Networks, where he drives Aerohive's cloud-enabled networking solutions and applications. Prior to Aerohive, he spent over 17 years in product marketing roles at Juniper, Cisco, and Nortel where he successfully launched over 50 products and drove increased market share in each company.

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