Don’t let clouded thinking make you forget the network

All businesses that have outsourced, or intend to outsource, parts of their IT infrastructure should consider the vital importance of the network to the successful operation of their cloud service.

In my experience, many haven’t, and the consequences of this include them paying over the odds for a networking solution that is often not suitable for taking advantage of the cloud, with businesses suffering from poor application performance as a result.

Much has changed in the networking space over the past decade: incumbent carriers are no longer the only providers of high-quality connectivity. The market has greater competition than ever before, thanks to the rise of new network providers.

In addition, a new breed of IT outsourcers has arisen – managed service providers – who can leverage the array of networks available and combine them with other technologies in one complementary service that suits the specific needs of each customer. All of this has had a positive effect on prices, choice and service quality.

The broadband revolution has bought about faster connectivity and an increasing demand for next generation networks that can support greater voice and data traffic volumes at greater speeds.

New networking technology gives businesses unprecedented freedom regarding the types of networks they use for cloud services. For example, instead of having to utilise fibre-based networking technologies, carriers can now combine multiple legacy copper lines – traditionally used for phone and broadband services – to create a lower cost, copper-based Ethernet connection with data transfer speeds, both up and down, of up to 20Mbits/s.

Speeds like this, whilst falling far short of those provided by fibre-based technologies, would be sufficient for a small business that wants to access some cloud services.

The drop in connectivity costs and the increase in the choice, reliability and sophistication of networking solutions mean that cloud services are potentially available to businesses of all sizes. They also mean that businesses should assess their network provision as part of a move to the cloud if they are going to ensure it is as cost-effective and seamless as possible.

In some cases, it may be worthwhile to, for example, break a contract with a carrier and incur related penalties in order to get a new service that is much faster, cheaper and more reliable.

It goes without saying that you need the right network for the job, and if you are going to outsource business-critical IT functions to the cloud, then you need a connection with strict performance and availability guarantees. But who is responsible for the performance of the network and the overall cloud service?

Whether a business is moving to the cloud, or just thinking about it, they must consider who is accountable for the performance and availability of whatever might be outsourced. If multiple providers are involved in an overall cloud service – e.g. a carrier, hosting company and application provider – there may be problems when it comes to identifying the root cause of service disruptions and fixing the problem.

For example, a number of businesses that have come to us for combined cloud hosting, application management and networking services have done so because they were frustrated with the finger-pointing by providers of different elements of their outsourced service.

The most obvious solution to this is to secure a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the overall service, not individual elements. However, this is only possible if the service provider controls both the cloud hosting and network services.

If a business has multiple providers, it will need to ensure the company’s SLA with their network provider covers the cloud application, and consider what headaches may be caused if it doesn’t. Businesses need to weigh up whether they’re prepared to take this risk or whether it’s more worthwhile to place networking and cloud hosting with one provider.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the wonders of the cloud and the business benefits available, and only consider the means of accessing and retrieving your data as an afterthought. The good news is that, with good due diligence, it’s relatively easy to have the right networking solution and cloud service provider for your business. This in turn will ensure cost-effective and reliable access to, and operation of, your cloud-based infrastructure.

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Michel Robert is an expert in business development and marketing with particular expertise in the IT solutions sector. He has worked in senior roles across Europe and the US and has more than seven years’ experience in the IT industry. Before joining Claranet UK, Michel was the Solution Director at Dimension Data, a global IT services and solution provider. Michel was responsible for the business development and marketing of Dimension Data’s technology solutions portfolio across Europe, and had particular success in growing the company’s presence in the UK. Michel has also worked in senior consulting and marketing positions for Forward in London (now part of WPP Group), a contract publishing company specialising in direct customer communications, and The Rouse Company, a North American property development company. Michel joined Claranet UK as Managing Director in July 2007, where he uses his experience to drive the development of Claranet's business IT services and solutions offering in the UK.