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Volta Data Centres Blog

Best of Both - Network Communications News

Posted by Matthew Dent on 29-Mar-2014 14:14:00

hybrid_cloudThe emergence of the hybrid cloud is opening up opportunities for those who have yet to be fully convinced by cloud technology. In this exclusive blog for Network Communications News, Matthew Dent of Volta Data Centres looks at the data centre infrastructure required to cater for a combination of private and public cloud.

The cloud, by now a well known concept across the information technology industry, is beginning to transform itself. No longer do businesses have to choose between the possibly less flexible private cloud and the potentially unsecure public cloud. The hybrid cloud has now appeared on the horizon, posing unique challenges from a networking point of view. In this article I will be examining one piece of the hybrid’s cloud physical infrastructure, the data centre, and its essential components that will help keep your cloud afloat.

The big picture
The concept of cloud brings increased efficiency, scalability and cost savings, benefiting business of all sizes. Smaller businesses can easily become more agile and responsive by tapping into the resources of the cloud with reduced upfront costs and faster implementation. Larger businesses can use cloud to help them grapple with complex problems such as the management and processing of Big Data. For both, the cloud can help ensure business continuity and minimise downtime.

In the UK alone, the Cloud Industry Forum estimated that 75 per cent of UK businesses would be using at least one cloud service by the end of 2013 and 80 per cent of current cloud users will have increased their spend in this model of IT delivery.

New cloud on the block
A hybrid cloud, as its name suggests, is made up of a combination of private cloud (a cloud infrastructure provisioned for exclusive use by a single organisation) and a public cloud (a cloud infrastructure provisioned for open use by the general public).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) definition of hybrid cloud is: ‘The cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardised or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g. cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds).’ In simplistic terms this means that it is possible to store sensitive data on a private cloud while external resources from a public cloud can run applications that rely on this data.

The proposition of a hybrid cloud opens up a whole new world for those businesses previously concerned with fully embracing cloud technology as it not only addresses security concerns, it also allows for optimal use of resources with increased uptime and reductions in capital and operational expenditure. Set up for individual customer requirements, both now and in the future, the flexible service has a holistic view of IT requirements and promises a secure delivery of application and content to the end user.

The pieces of the hybrid puzzle
Because the structure of a hybrid cloud is ideally based on decisions of what is best for the business, while respecting its future needs and requirements, it is worthwhile examining the components that make up the hybrid in order to view how each piece fits together.

Starting with the private cloud, whether on premise or hosted, the components of strategy and highly secure applications are usually placed here. This includes what is commonly thought of as ‘back end’ functions such as compliance, regulation and an increasingly important matter of data sovereignty. Examples from the financial services industry would include clients’ personal details, sensitive algorithms and the ability to maintain regulatory compliance. The media and entertainment industry have similar issues of concern with regards to security and content. Media companies would like to retain control over their digital archives, meaning digital masters would ideally be kept within a private cloud.

The public cloud typically consists of components and operation applications, accessories, services and architectures for development and testing. Frequently referred to as the ‘front end’ of operation – customer service, speed and agility are the goals here.

For the finance industry this would include running financial models or historical data since huge amounts of computing power and storage are required for these processes. High intensity processing is also required by the media industry in order to expedite rendering and transcoding. The public cloud is also increasingly becoming strategically important for processing spikes during traffic overflow in peak times, such as demonstrated by the New York Times’ usage of public cloud during the 2008 presidential elections.

Cloud balancing is the system that controls the communication between the two clouds, allowing for the selection of best locations (whether a primary or secondary data centre, or an on premise location) from which to serve an application. Cloud balancing weighs in different factors, including:
  • Physical location of customer.
  • Current capacity of data centre or server.
  • Availability of the application at a given implementation location.
But what of the physical infrastructure that bridges the private and public clouds and manages the flow of data between them? Within this network, data centres play a large part within the jigsaw, fusing the hybrid cloud together.

Data centres play the critical role of bringing the different networks together within what is also referred to as a carrier hotel.

A data centre with a stable, fully redundant network and high reliability is key, as well as the ability to cross-connect with other carriers.  When a business connects into a data centre it is also becoming part of a whole ecosystem including the carriers who link this ecosystem to the rest of the world – also clients of the same data centre. This allows for the potential of greatly expanding a company’s global footprint with not only increased local connections but also greater global connectivity for the business, without enormous overheads. Increased connectivity options additionally allows for better deployment of cloud balancing and cloud bursting in order to address unpredicted traffic demands and applications, such as in the above New York Times example.

Central to the ability to better load balance and achieve bursting capabilities, access to numerous carriers within a data centre becomes a central consideration. Consisting of diverse fibre links and multiple routes of entry, a data centre’s network should provide adequate bandwidth in order to avoid packet loss and poor network quality.

This is especially important for hybrid cloud set ups because once tiered applications are broken up and placed in dispersed data centres, latency can become a problem without dedicated fibre links.

Another important consideration is the selection of a carrier neutral data centre, because independence from any one major carrier means that customers can freely connect with the carrier of their choice.

Highly secured environment
Certain industries, including financial services and media and entertainment, have been hesitant to move all of their applications and systems into the cloud because they are not then 100 per cent in control of security or performance. Highly public instances of major outages of the public cloud have not helped matters in this regard.

Uptime becomes crucial if these industries are to transfer even a partial amount of their workflow into the cloud. Pertinent questions need to be asked of potential cloud services providers regarding the data centres, of which the uptime of networks is partially reliant on:
  • Is the data centre environment under stringent controls?
  • Is there a failover system that automatically switches to a fully redundant system in order to keep operations highly available?
  • Are there procedures in place to let you exceed the number of virtual machines if required?
As we have seen, power and connectivity are fundamental criteria when choosing a primary data centre, but they are just as important if a secondary data centre is required. Secondary data centres are relevant in cloud balancing and can help take on workloads in a cloud bursting scenario. If organisations are latency sensitive, the actual physical location of this secondary data centre remains just as vital since information can only be past through networks at the speed of light – the closer the data centres are to each other, the faster the information will be received.

Location can also be a factor when companies would like to feel more in control when accessing their systems. Whilst smart hands technical support service should be a prerequisite of every modern data centre, there are times when engineers prefer to be able to get quick access in person. Data centres located in proximity to your offices could be a potential attribute.

Picture perfect
The evolution of the cloud, now incorporating the concept of the hybrid cloud, opens up many opportunities. We will see that more and more businesses, some of which were previously reluctant to take up cloud, will start to increasingly relying upon the hybrid cloud because their previous concerns regarding security and regulatory compliance have now been answered.

Understanding how the private and public elements of the cloud can match the workloads, applications and individual criteria of organisations is mandatory in the success of hybrid clouds, as well as choosing the right physical infrastructure to support the smooth running of the applications. The data centre is crucial to the hybrid cloud in its role as a carrier hotel, providing a fully redundant, secure environment, as well as an ecosystem of interconnections and the carriers providing links to the rest of your businesses cloud infrastructure.

As the technology of the physical infrastructure underpinning the hybrid cloud advances, so too will the standards surrounding the hybrid cloud continue to evolve – a development of the puzzle that we will continue to watch. 

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