Brad Reinboldt

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Visualizing the Cloud

Migrating to the cloud requires a shift in mindset

Cloud computing continues to be a hot topic in the world of technology. Many users feel cloud computing yields increased IT flexibility, allowing for faster response as market demands shift, as well as improved application availability and lower infrastructure costs. Because it is being discussed so much, it can be hard to understand what cloud computing really is and how it will impact network management. I think it is time that we cut through the hype and look at the realities of cloud computing on the network.

What's in a Cloud?
First let's understand the difference between the terms "private" and "public" clouds. The term "private cloud" services typically refers to internally hosted applications being delivered over the Internet and WAN connections to users. The term "public clouds" refers to three types of externally hosted computing platforms: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

A recent Network Instruments State of the Network survey showed that of the companies surveyed, 54 percent have implemented some form of cloud computing. One-third have implemented some form of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), such as SalesForce.com or Google Apps. One-quarter have invested in private clouds, and 13 percent rely on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.

Clearly, organizations moving their IT assets to the cloud are implementing a variety of public cloud service models. Regardless of the public cloud service, organizations are moving applications that were once internally hosted and introducing new players - the ISP and cloud provider - who now control certain aspects of the service delivery and performance.

Risks Associated with the Cloud
With so many hands in the pot and without the proper ability to monitor what is happening in the cloud, organizations can quickly lose control. When applications suffer any performance delay or users complain about slow application response, the network team may not have the tools to deal with the situation. Organizations quickly give up control by not knowing what is happening in the cloud.

In addition to giving up control over application performance, visibility and analysis of performance may suffer by moving to the cloud. Your current monitoring tools may not be sufficient to track connections moving across the WAN and Internet. Without real-time metrics, it's difficult for IT to manage performance, monitor and enforce SLAs, ensure application precedence and pinpoint the cause of delays.

Getting Control
In order to overcome these challenges and maintain control in the cloud, organizations must implement proper monitoring tools. By closely monitoring what is happening in the cloud, organizations gain control over their services while maintaining and improving overall performance. The following four cloud metrics help organizations set key measurements to show the effectiveness of any cloud service strategy:

  1. User Experience
    Think like an end user and measure the quality of the experience. Focus on service availability and performance metrics, and monitor response times from the user perspective.
  2. Performance Benchmarks
    Establish internal benchmarks for normal service behavior with regards to cloud service utilization, number of concurrent users, overall cloud service response time, and response time for specific transactions. Also, incorporate any relevant SLA thresholds into baseline reports.
  3. Internal Infrastructure and Network
    Track and trend performance and availability metrics for servers, routers, switches, and other service components. For servers this includes metrics like CPU utilization, memory usage, and disk space. For routers and switches, keep tabs on port, CPU, and memory utilization. Also, record client and server response times for your internal network.
  4. Availability and Route Monitoring
    Set up analysis tools to regularly perform an operation with the cloud service via synthetic transactions. This is more complex than a ping, and should mimic user interactions with the service. From these results, you can determine availability and uptime.

In Practice
Although cloud computing might seem overwhelming to implement and maintain, the technologies are largely based on traditional network concepts. Migrating to the cloud requires a shift in mindset but uses many of the same solutions you have for managing your internal network and infrastructure. By implementing the proper monitoring steps, network teams will be able to remain focused on delivering the application and services required by the end users.

More Stories By Brad Reinboldt

Brad Reinboldt is a Senior Product Manager at Network Instruments. He has participated in the information systems arena for over 20 years with expertise within the computing, networking and storage sectors. During this time, he has held a number of development and technical management roles with companies ranging in size from start-up to multi-billion dollar organizations. His more recent assignments have included Fiber Channel switch development and product management within the SAN and server arenas. Brad holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering as well as an MBA in management. Currently he serves as an Adjunct Instructor at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.

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