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How to get your networking working for hybrid IT


Hybrid IT is all about using different platforms in different locations – and the network is the glue that holds them all together. It’s what connects users to the resources they want to consume, wherever they are. Without the network, hybrid IT wouldn’t be possible.

Like other aspects of hybrid IT, networking for hybrid IT has its challenges.

The main challenge is that organisations are already running hybrid IT, but on legacy networks.

The areas of the network impacted by hybrid IT include the data centre network on your own premises, the cloud network, and the wide area network in between. Getting visibility of all these areas, controlling them, and making them work together as an integrated whole isn’t easy.

Old WAN architectures aren’t fit for hybrid IT

As companies adopt more hybrid IT, WAN performance becomes more of an issue. Companies typically have Internet breakout at their data centre, but this involves using long ‘hairpin’ routes for the data to travel back and forth from data centre to branch.

One solution to this is to add bandwidth, but the cost can erode the savings you’re making elsewhere. An alternative approach is to break out to the Internet at the branch, but governance and security issues need to be addressed carefully.

The hybrid WANs used for hybrid IT are more complicated to operate than traditional ones, because they use multiple carriage types, e.g. carriers and the Internet. One way of dealing with this is to outsource the problem to someone who specialises in it – but what type of specialist?

In the old days, a carrier would have been the natural choice. But today, multiple carriage choices are involved, and although carriers can provide these services, they’re not neutral. They have a vested interest in selling networks and putting traffic over them, and this can work against achieving full optimisation between private and public.

In the hybrid world, it may be better to use an impartial managed network service provider, who is both carrier neutral, and can give you the true optimum balance between VPN and the Internet. Getting this right is critical to making hybrid IT work, because if you don’t, not only could you see your potential savings ebb away, but you could even end up with worse application performance.

Data centre networks need to be software defined

Companies won’t move all their applications to the cloud for a variety of reasons, including compliance or local performance requirements. So the network within their own data centre will form part of their hybrid infrastructure, and most are upgrading it accordingly.

What these companies are trying to achieve is a cloud-like performance in the data centre network. This implies moving network functionality into software, so the network can be orchestrated automatically, just like the compute and storage resources it’s connecting.

What’s driving the need for software defined networking (SDN) is that applications are changing so fast. Today’s apps can scale themselves – as usage rises, they can ask for an extra capacity to be provisioned in real time. The network needs to be able to provision itself up or down just as quickly. And this applies not just to connectivity and bandwidth, but all network services such as IP addressing and application delivery too.

DevOps is also driving the imminent take-off of SDN

Improved working between development and operations teams means application updates can be implemented daily, hourly, or even minute by minute. To cope with this, the infrastructure, including the network, has to be reconfigured extremely rapidly, something which can only be done automatically.

But it’s not just technology upgrades that are required – management processes have to change too. In the old networking world, a LAN specialist or WAN specialist would reconfigure numerous individual devices manually. In the hybrid world, you have treat the network as a system, reprogram it through a SDN controller, accessed via an API.

Many companies aren’t ready to do this themselves, but we are. In our own business, we’ve already upskilled our data centre networking people and implement SDN in all our data centres. So we’re ready to architect, install, and (if you want) manage software defined networks in our clients’ own data centres.

Abstract away the complexity of cloud networking

The final frontier of networking for hybrid IT is cloud networking. Different cloud providers manage the networking component of their services differently. This means you either have to learn lots of different ways of doing cloud networking, or risk getting tied into one provider – which rather defeats the object of using hybrid IT in the first place.

The way out of this dilemma is to use abstraction to orchestrate multiple cloud networks automatically. This is what we’re doing with our Service Layer – an automated hybrid IT management capability that uses abstraction to talk to different clouds in the same way.

It gives micro-service instructions through open APIs to AWS, Azure, and our own Managed Cloud Platform, and we’re continually developing its capabilities.

A few points to bear in mind

In summary, some key networking issues to keep in mind when choosing a partner for hybrid IT:

  • Look for a partner with a robust set of networking capabilities that meet your requirements across your on-premise data centres, the WAN and cloud platforms.
  • Check they have secure, high-speed, low-latency network connections to the cloud – like our parent, NTT Communications, who can connect you to all clouds with one connection.
  • Partner with a network services provider who is carrier neutral, will fully optimise your hybrid WAN, and uses abstraction to orchestrate multiple cloud networks automatically.

Take a look at the recent research on how companies are using hybrid IT, and talk to us about how to tackle those challenges.

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