IT leaders at today’s cloud-enabled businesses are expected to provide the same predictable performance that they did with on-prem systems. Downtime is unacceptable, and these cloud applications need to work the way they were meant to. They need to be responsive, fast, and not frustrate users. And they must do all of this in a way that scales – working consistently as business needs change, revenue grows, and locations expand.
But cloud is creating new challenges for the network, challenges not readily solved through traditional networking technology that rely on static policies.
The first challenge is that, by nature, cloud technologies rely on the Internet, and no matter what kind of internet circuit you look to use, performance is unpredictable. We monitor thousands of internet connections ten times per second and can tell you very simply that it doesn’t matter what kind of connection you have; fiber, cable, wireless, etc., they all can experience business-affecting degradation. This can mean downtime or brownouts, and both can be expensive, frustrating to users, and potentially job-threatening to the people responsible for networking. Our data shows that on average, an ISP connection will experience 3.5 hours of downtime per month and 23 hours of major performance-affecting brownouts per month. This can be at 2 AM, so if you’re not a 24/7 business maybe that hasn’t hit you hard yet, but it can also be during the middle of the day.
The second challenge comes from the ever-shifting application landscape. If your users are leveraging the cloud well, procuring and consuming new applications all the time and shifting their use of current applications, how does the network keep up? There’s no way for network administrators to know exactly the makeup of their traffic 6 months from now (if they even know what it looks like today). This means that it’s impossible to create static network policies that can provide a good user experience over time.
Finally, the third challenge is that IT is no longer the sole gatekeeper of software provisioning. This means that, even with plentiful IT resources, there are critical technologies being used in businesses that IT doesn’t know about and has no policies to manage.
These challenges lead to an all-too-familiar game of policy whack-a-mole. Users get frustrated by application outages or poor performance. They contact IT in a huff, and now IT must decide if they’re going to ignore the problem, say it’s not a supported application, try to fix it with some new network policy, or maybe contact a vendor so that vendor can implement a new policy. At the end of the day, no one is happy, and the cloud is a point of frustration rather than empowerment.
Here’s what I think is at the root of the situation: It used to be that IT controlled every application. IT was the bottleneck and was able to control the experience. Sometimes that worked out well, but that’s not the way the world is moving.
In this new cloud era, IT is now a facilitator, end-users are interacting directly with their applications. They’re procuring, configuring, using, and troubleshooting them. Yes, they’ll still come to blame IT when they don’t work right, but the interaction model has fundamentally changed. IT leaders need network technologies that support this new model, that enable their users to be nimble and efficient with applications.
If their network is built upon a set of static, human-controlled policies, how do companies ensure performance and reliability when new applications can be added into the environment at any time? They can probably configure policies for 80 or 90 percent of their business needs. That’s pretty good, and they’ll feel like they’ve done their job, the box is checked, they can say they have failover or application prioritization. But what about when one of those new applications uses a ton of bandwidth – how does that impact their existing business-critical applications? Or when their CEO gets sent an invite to use some random videoconferencing tool they’ve never heard of for a key meeting, are their network policies going to ensure he or she can communicate effectively, or will they get a frustrated email after the call?
Beyond simple frustrations and inconvenience, if a business relies on static network policies, it’s exposed to the risk of falling behind competitors who are using the intelligent software in their network. The solution to this lack of control isn’t more policies, it’s a smarter network.
At Bigleaf, we don’t want our users to have to think about how the network will handle new applications. Frankly, everyone wants their voice calls to sound clear, their video to play smoothly, their web applications to be snappy, and their databases to be reliable. We’ve built smart software that auto-detects every type of application, classifies them into six priority categories, and automatically ensures they behave how they’re supposed to, even when the network is congested. Our users don’t need policies to get the outcome they want. It’s wonderful.
Article by ATI partner Joel Mulkey, Founder and CEO – Bigleaf Networks
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