Cloud 2011: The Year of the Network

By George Reese
December 22, 2010 | Comments: 4

The pace of innovation in the cloud in the last few years has been astounding. It's difficult to recognize today's cloud computing landscape as having any relationship to where it was a year ago. In spite of all the innovation that's been going on, one area remains in the dark ages—the network. My 2011 prediction is simple: 2011 will be the year of the network in the cloud.

Today, popular usage of cloud networking remains much the same as it was in 2008 when AWS announced elastic IP addresses. Sure, AWS has VPC and, yeah, a number of other clouds offer things vaguely analogous to VLANs and VPNs. Nevertheless, for most use cases, the network is a dumb pipe with limited segmentation capabilities and a small feature set.

I see two primary drivers of network innovation for the cloud in 2011:

  • Many people are starting third generation systems that require smarter networks
  • 2011 is the year in which IPv6 is going to matter to everyone, and thus it will matter to the cloud

Let's look at the network from the perspective of the largest cloud provider, Amazon Web Services:

  • No IPv6 support (though you can create IPv6 DNS mappings in Route 53)
  • No multicasting or broadcast capabilities
  • VPC is the only mechanism for crafting VLANs, and those capabilities are limited
  • No ability to setup outbound firewall rules unless you use VPC to route through your own network and firewalls
  • Limited ability to craft true network segments
  • Limited native load balancing capabilities in the form of ELBs
  • No intelligence for dynamically structured networks

We've already begun to see some interesting innovation in the network space for cloud in the form technologies like vShield in vCloud Service Director from VMware. vShield is essentially the next step in firewalling for virtual machine deployments in the cloud beyond AWS security groups. Here are the things I expect to see in 2011:

  • IPv6 support from any cloud provider who matters
  • QoS controls to enable you to reserve bandwidth in aggregate as well as parcel out that bandwidth to the components of your own infrastructure
  • The ability to craft true VLANs (including multicast, broadcast, network segmentation, and routing)
  • Rich VPN support without third-party add-ons
  • Outbound firewall rules will be supported in more clouds
  • Intelligent load balancing involving cooperation between cloud management tools and cloud load balancers
  • Intelligent, elastic networks in which cloud management tools are provisioning and de-provisioning entire networks based on demand (both in terms of capacity and function)

For every item above, I'm also willing to bet there's someone working on ten ideas I haven't even considered. The key thing to innovation for the network is to ask the question: "How do the core characteristics of cloud computing allow us to rethink how we use the network?" I'm excited to see the answers to this question.

Is there something you'd like to see happen for the network in 2011? Please comment on it!

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Outstanding post.

More I'd like to see (& am starting to see):

- generically: more virtualized network devices that can be deployed and configured on a per customer / tenant basis

- specifically: virtualized application delivery controllers so individual tenants can separately control and use load balancing, firewalls, compression, encryption, WAN optimization etc. etc.

There should (& will) also be more options for more transparently connecting enterprise networks to private networks within cloud providers.

FWIW, we at CohesiveFT make a product that addresses many points mentioned in the post.

Interested in what comes from the vendor domain, much more interest is in whats coming 2 or 3 years from now in the cloud space as we know this is what is in the product managers pipeline. It would seem that there is innovation lag in the networking domain as it refers to cloud, however I am sure a thought leader or two will have something to blog or tweet.

In all, a reasonable cloud year, its coming, the ecosystem is building, the business models are changing; lets just make sure we don't create cardboard boxes in the new world.

Merry christmas

What are your predictions for network virtualization in wireless equipment providers? Like QoS enabled wireless with prioritization of traffic by both user and application? Or many mobile operators are now looking at Wi-Fi networks as a way to offload data from their 2G or 3G infrastructure during peaks?
Seeing this bullet:

"Intelligent, elastic networks in which cloud management tools are provisioning and de-provisioning entire networks based on demand (both in terms of capacity and function)"

How is this applicable w to wireless networks?

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