Heading into the cloud: Managing network performance across a unified fabric

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

The adoption of virtualization and cloud-based services is accelerating, but a byproduct enterprises may not have considered is that it has never been more challenging to gain accurate and timely application performance visibility in a uniform way.

Existing virtualization tools are either not available to the operations team or lack the standard operations center functionality required to proactively assure application performance and reliability. And conventional performance management solutions designed to collect specific types of data that must be aggregated and reported on centrally, can't scale or provide immediate visibility across the enterprise's network infrastructure.

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These limitations are compounded by the fact that compute, network and storage resources are shared when infrastructure is being provided as a service, making it difficult for an enterprise to assess which of its applications are being supported, how they are performing and whether they are receiving the necessary bandwidth.

Cloud's performance management challenge

Leveraging cloud-based technologies, whether private or outsourced, for delivering business-critical applications backed by solid service-level agreements (SLAs) allows IT to maximize the value of the network by enhancing internal processes and operations. This is achieved via higher server utilization rates and lower costs thanks to virtualization, automation and service management software.

The latter is particularly critical for enterprises deploying their own private cloud or leveraging cloud services because the convergence of compute, network and storage streamlines the provisioning and allocation of resources. For example, when the business specifies the application and class of service they want, IT should be able to provision the appropriate resources automatically. The ability to plan capacity, monitor resource consumption in real-time and make adjustments on-the-fly is also critical because IT must dynamically reallocate resources depending on the level or class of service required by the application and how well the application is performing.

Enterprise IT needs complete and immediate visibility if they are to meet SLAs with the business. With the company's revenues and reputation at stake, they must ensure they are meeting business expectations while optimizing their infrastructure to scale across a multitude of end users and applications.

IT organizations require highly automated and integrated system management software tools to optimize IT processes and application performance across dynamic hybrid cloud environments that combine on-premise private clouds and off-premise public clouds with traditional and virtualized IT service infrastructures. Many are opting for a phased migration using technology partners and starting with less mission-critical applications and resources, ensuring they have the people, processes and the right tools in place.

Keeping the lights on during transition

Traditional tools employed for managing performance have typically been point solutions supporting a specific technology area. Because cloud services are delivered as one offering, the ability to collect data from different sources, overlay that data in one interface, and view performance metrics as a whole becomes extremely important for identifying and addressing service impacting issues.

But before organizations can identify what applications can or should be run in the cloud, they need to understand how applications perform and the resources they require. By monitoring and baselining performance, organizations can understand the peak utilization hours across resources in order to determine the appropriate services or resource categories that must be defined within the cloud to support the application effectively.

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Once the apps have been migrated, IT needs to continue to monitor the cloud for changes or deviation of baselines to determine if more resources are required. In some cases, resources can be dynamically applied at certain times of the day to keep up with peak demands, then released when those peak times have passed, making those resources available for other applications.

Leveraging virtualization in the cloud enables organizations to dynamically reallocate or move virtual machines (VMs) to resources when needed. However, moving VMs to different resources can present problems for IT in terms of maintaining visibility of the VM and assessing the impact of the move, because some tools will treat a moved VM as new and history can be lost.

Solving the cloud management conundrum

Enterprise IT organizations leveraging private and off-premises public cloud services face several additional performance management challenges:

" Cost containment -- Collecting, monitoring and baselining performance across technologies is critical to allowing IT to right-size environments based on the needs of the services they support and deliver, therefore optimizing or maximizing their infrastructure investments.

" Timely notification -- Baselines are essential because IT must rapidly identify changes in performance behavior. Business dissatisfaction is a big problem and when performance issues arise due to an increase in application usage, proactive notification allows IT to dynamically reallocate resources to ensure SLAs are met.

" Traffic management -- Analyzing usage data allows IT to better architect and plan for new services. They need to understand where they can reduce costs through virtualization and convergence of infrastructure, while also enabling leading edge delivery models supported by usage-based accounting.

" Triage -- When problems arise, IT needs the visibility to quickly identify where within the cloud performance of key business services is affected.

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For IT, the primary objective is managing the infrastructure and connectivity and ensuring that the bandwidth of the latter is sized appropriately so that SLA commitments on performance and resource availability can be met. The ability to on-board new business applications and end users rapidly is a necessity, meaning a single performance management platform is vital if IT organizations are to avoid the cost and complexity of having to deploy and configure multiple systems and then aggregate performance data back to a single point to achieve end-to-end visibility.

Meanwhile, end users will also expect the enterprise IT team to be able to deliver end-to-end visibility on performance and quality of the application services if they are to justify their cloud investment. Although SLAs can be hard to enforce within a unified fabric scenario, moving forward, it will be essential for enterprises to have the right tools to be able to quickly isolate and resolve issues before they result in major business interruptions.

Cloud computing and virtualization indeed are transforming the way in which IT is delivered and consumed. But as adoption continues to rise, organizations require a unified view of network, server and application performance across physical and virtual infrastructures to meet current SLAs and future demands.

Cruz is director of product management and marketing at SevOne.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "Heading into the cloud: Managing network performance across a unified fabric" was originally published by Network World.

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