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We hear about the post-PC era, but rarely does anyone talk about the post-LAN or even the post-WAN era. Yet the major IT trends of the day — from mobile to cloud to app stores — are changing the expectations we all have from our blended networks.
How are the campus networks of yesterday going to support the Internet-borne applications and media delivery requirements of tomorrow?
It’s increasingly clear that more users will be using more devices to access more types of web content and services. They want coordination among those devices for that content. They want it done securely with privacy, and they want their IT departments to support all of their devices for all of their work applications and data too.
From the IT mangers’ perspective, they want to be able to deliver all kinds of applications using all sorts of models, from smartphones to tablets to zero clients to HD web streaming to fat-client downloads and website delivery across multiple public and private networks with control and with ease.
This is all a very tall order, and networks will need to adjust rapidly or the latency and hassle of access and performance issues will get in the way of users, their new expectations, and their behaviors — for both work and play.
The latest BriefingsDirect IT discussion is with an executive from at Akamai Technologies to delve into the rapidly evolving trends and subsequently heightened expectations that we’re all developing around our networks. We are going to look at how those networks might actually rise to the task with Neil Cohen, Vice President of Product Marketing at Akamai Technologies. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: Akamai is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Given the heightened expectations — this always-on, hyper connectivity mode — how are networks going to rise to these needs?
Cohen: Nobody wants the network to be the weak link, but changes definitely need to happen. Look at what’s going on in the enterprise and the way applications are being deployed. It’s changing to where they’re moving out to the cloud. Applications that used to reside in your own infrastructure are moving out to other infrastructure, and in some cases, you don’t have the ability to place any sort of technology to optimize the WAN out in the cloud.
Mobile device usage is exploding. Things like smartphones and tablets are all becoming intertwined with the way people want to access their applications. Obviously, when you start opening up more applications through access to the internet, you have a new level of security that you have to worry about when things move outside of your firewall that used to be within it.
Gardner: How do you know where the weak link is when there is a problem?
Cohen: The first step is to understand just what many networks actually mean, because even that has a lot of different dimensions to it. The fact that things are moving out to public clouds means that users are getting access, usually over the internet. We all know that the internet is very different than your private network. Nobody is going to give you a service-level agreement (SLA) on the internet.
Something like mobile is different, where you have mobile networks that have different attributes, different levels of over subscription and different bottlenecks that need to be solved. This really starts driving the need to not only 1) bring control over the internet itself, as well as the mobile networks.
But also 2) the importance for performance analytics from a real end-user perspective. It becomes important to look at all the different choke points at which latency can occur and to be able to bring it all into a holistic view, so that you can troubleshoot and understand where your problems are.
There are a lot of different things that people are looking at to try to solve application delivery outside of the corporate network. Something we’ve been doing at Akamai for a long time is deploying our own optimization protocols into the internet that give you the control, the SLA, the types of quality of service that you normally associate with your private network.
And there are lots of optimization tricks that are being done for mobile devices, where you can optimize the network. You can optimize the web content and you can actually develop different formats and different content for mobile devices than for regular desktop devices. All of those are different ways to try to deal with the performance challenges off the traditional WAN.
Gardner: Are the carriers stepping up to the plate and saying, “We’re going to take over more of this network performance issue?”
Cohen: I think they’re looking at it and saying, “Look, I have a problem. My network is evolving. It’s spanning in lots of different ways, whether it’s on my private network or out on the internet or mobile devices,” and they need to solve that problem. One way of solving it is to build hardware and do lots of different do-it-yourself approaches to try to solve that.
That’s a very unwieldy approach. It requires a lot of dollars and arguably doesn’t solve the problem very well, which is why companies look for managed services and ways to outsource those types of problems, when things move off of their WAN.
But at the same time, even though they’re outsourcing it, they still want control. It’s important for an IT department to actually see what traffic and what applications are being accessed by the users, so that they understand the traffic and they can react to it.
Gardner: I’m seeing a rather impressive adoption pattern around virtualized desktop activities and there’s a variety of ways of doing this. We’ve seen solutions from folks like Citrix and VMware and Microsoft and we’re seeing streaming, zero-client, thin-client, and virtual-desktop activities, like infrastructure in the data center, a pure delivery of the full desktop and the applications as a service.
Cohen: There are different unique challenges with the virtual desktop models, but it also ties into that same hyper-connected theme. In order to really unleash the potential of virtual desktops, you don’t only want to be able to access it on your corporate network, but you want to be able to get a local experience by taking that virtual desktop anywhere with you just like you do with a regular machine. You’re also seeing products being offered out in the market that allow you to extend virtual desktops onto your mobile tablets.
You have the same kind of issues again. Not only do you have different protocols to optimize for virtual desktops, but you have to deal with the same challenges of delivering it across that entire ecosystem of devices, and networks. That’s an area that we’re investing heavily in as it relates to unlocking the potential of VDI. People will have universal access, to be able to take their desktops wherever they want to go.
Gardner: And is there some common thread to what we would think of in the past as acceleration services for things like websites, streaming, or downloads? Are we talking about an entirely new kind of infrastructure or is this some sort of a natural progression of what folks like Akamai have been doing for quite some time?
Cohen: It’s a very logical extension of the technology we’ve built for more than a decade. If you look a decade ago, we had to solve the problem of delivering streaming video, real-time over the web, which is very sensitive to things like latency, packet loss, and jitter and that’s no different for virtual desktops. In order to give that local experience for virtual users, you have to solve the challenges of real-time communication back and forth between the client and the server.
Gardner: If I were an architect in the enterprise, it seems to me that many of my long-term cost-performance improvement activities of major strategic initiatives are all hinging on solving this network problem.
Cohen: What I’m hearing is more of a business transformation example, where the business comes down and puts pressure on the network to be able to access applications anywhere, to be able to outsource, to be able to offshore, and to be able to modernize their applications. That’s really mandating a lot of the changes in the network itself.
The pressure is really coming from the business, which is, “How do I react more quickly to the changing needs of the business without having IT in a position where they say, ‘I can’t.’ ” The internet is the pervasive platform that allows you to get anywhere. What you need is the quality of service guarantees that should come with it.
If you can help transform a business and you can do it in a way that is operationally more efficient at a lower cost, you’ve got the winning combination.
… Akamai continues to offer the consumer-based services as it relates to improving websites and rich media on the web. But now we have a full suite of services that provide application acceleration over the internet. We allow you to reach users globally while consolidating your infrastructure and getting the same kind of benefits you realize with WAN optimization on your private network, but out over the internet.
And as those applications move outside of the firewall, we’ve got a suite of security services that address the new types of security threats you deal with when you’re out on the web.
Gardner: Is there an analysis, a business intelligence benefit from doing this as well?
Cohen: What’s important is not only that you improve the delivery of an application, but that you have the appropriate insight in terms of how the application is performing and how people are using the application so that you can take action and react accordingly.
Just because something has moved out into the cloud or out on the Internet, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have the same kind of real-time personalized analytics that you expect on your private network. That’s an area we’ve invested in, both in our own technology investment, but also with some partnerships that provide real-time reporting and business intelligence in terms of our critical websites and applications.
Gardner: Not only are the types of applications changing, but is there a need to design and build these applications differently, in such a way that they are cloud-ready or hybrid-ready or mobile-ready?
Cohen: If I were to go back to the developers, I’d ask, “Do you really need to build different websites or separate apps for all these different form factors, or is there a better way to build one common source, a code, and then adapt it using different techniques in the network, in the cloud that allow you to reuse that investment over and over again?”
What I expect to see is more adoption of standard web languages. It means that you need to use good semantic design principles, as it relates to the way you design your applications. But in terms of optimizing content and building for mobile devices and mobile specific sites, a lot of that is going to be using standard web languages that people are familiar with and that are just evolving and getting better.
Websites are based on HTML and with HTML5, the web is getting richer, more immersive, and starting to approach that as the same kind of experience you get on your desktop.
We go back to the developers and get them to build on a standard set of tools that allow them to deal with the different types of connected devices out in the market? If you build one code base based on HTML, for example, could you take that website that you’ve built and be able to render it differently in the cloud and allow it to adapt on the fly for something like an iPhone, an Android, a BlackBerry, a 7-inch tablet, or a 9-inch tablet?
Gardner: So part of the solution to the many screens problem isn’t more application interface designs, but perhaps a more common basis for the application and services, and let the network take care of those issues on a screen to screen basis. Is that closer?
Cohen: That’s exactly right. More and more of the intelligence is actually moving out to the cloud. We’ve already seen this on the video side. In the past people had to use lots of different formats and bit rates. Now what they’re doing is taking that stuff and saying, “Give me one high quality source.” Then all of the adaptation capabilities that are going to be done in the network, in the cloud, just simplify that work from the customer.
I expect exactly the same thing to happen in the enterprise, where the enterprise is one common source of code and a lot of the adaptation capabilities are done, again, that intelligent function inside of the network.
These are all hot topics. The WAN is becoming everything, but you really need to change your views as it relates to not just thinking about what happens inside of your corporate network, but with the movement of cloud, all of the connected devices, all of this quickly becoming the network.
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