More Complexity, New Problems, Sounds Like IT!

It is a very cool world we live in, where technology is concerned. We’re looking at a near future where your excess workload, be it applications or storage, can be shunted off to a cloud. Your users have more power in their hands than ever before, and are chomping at the bit to use it on your corporate systems. IBM recently announced a memory/storage breakthrough that will make Flash disks look like 5.25 inch floppies. While we can’t know what tomorrow will bring, we can certainly know that the technology will enable us to be more adaptable, responsive, and (yes, I’ll say it) secure. Whether we actually are or not is up to us, but the tools will be available. Of course, as has been the case for the last thirty years, those changes will present new difficulties. Enabling technology creates issues… Which create opportunity for emerging technology. But we have to live through the change, and deal with making things sane.

In the near future, you will be able to send backup and replication data to the cloud, reducing your on-site storage and storage administration needs by a huge volume. You can today, in fact, with products like F5’s ARX Cloud Extender. You will also be able to grant access to your applications from an increasing array of endpoint devices, again, you can do it today, with products like F5’s ASM for VPN access and APM for application security, but recent surveys and events in the security space should be spurring you to look more closely into these areas. SaaS is cool again in many areas that it had been ruled out – like email – to move the expense of relatively standardized high volume applications out of the datacenter and into the hands of trusted vendors. You can get email “in the cloud” or via traditional SaaS vendors. That’s just some of the changes coming along, and guess who is going to implement these important changes, be responsible for making them secure, fast, and available? That would be IT.

To frame the conversation, I’m going to pillage some of Lori’s excellent graphics and we’ll talk about what you’ll need to cover as your environment changes. I won’t use the one showing little F5 balls on all of the strategic points of control, but if we have one.

First, the points of business value and cost containment possible on the extended datacenter network.

Notice that this slide is couched in terms of “how can you help the business”. Its genius is that Lori drew an architecture  and then inserted business-relevant bits into it, so you can equate what you do every day to helping the business.

Next up is the actual Strategic Points of Control slide, where we can see the technological equivalency of these points.

So these few points are where you can hook in to the existing infrastructure offer you enhanced control of your network – storage, global, WAN, LAN, Internet clients – by putting tools into place that will act upon the data passing through them and contain policies and programmability that give you unprecedented automation.

The idea here is that we are stepping beyond traditional deployments, to virtualization, remote datacenters, cloud, varied clients, ever-increasing storage (and cloud storage of course), while current service levels and security will be expected to be maintained. That’s a tall order, and stepping up the stack a bit to put strategic points of control into the network helps you manage the change without killing yourself or implementing a million specialized apps, policies, and procedures just to keep order and control costs.

At the Global Strategic Point of Control, you can direct users to a working instance of your application, even if the primary application is unavailable and users must be routed to a remote instance. At this same place, you can control access to restricted applications, and send unauthorized individuals to a completely different server than the application they were trying to access. That’s the tip of the iceberg, with load balancing to local strategic points of control being one of the other uses that is beyond the scope of this blog.

The Local Strategic Point of Control offers performance, reliability, and availability in the guise of load balancing, security in the form of content-based routing and application security – before the user has hit the application server – and encryption of sensitive data flowing internally and/or externally, without placing encryption burdens on your servers.

The Storage Strategic Point of Control offers up tiering and storage consolidation through virtual directories, heterogeneous security administration, and abstraction of the NAS heads. By utilizing this point of control between the user and the file services, automation can act across vendors and systems to balance load and consolidate data access. It also reduces management time for endpoint staff, as the device behind a mount/map point can be changed without impacting users.

Remote site VPN extension and DMZ rules consolidation can happen at the global strategic point of control at the remote site, offering a more hands-off approach to satellite offices. Note that WAN Optimization occurs across the WAN, over the Local and global strategic points of control. Web Application Optimization also happens at the global or local strategic point of control, on the way out to the end point device.

What’s not shown is a large unknown in cloud usage – how to extend the control you have over the LAN out to the cloud via the WAN. Some things are easy enough to cover by sending users to a device in your datacenter and then redirecting to the cloud application, but this can be problematic if you’re not careful about redirection and bookmarks. Also, it has not been possible for symmetric tools like WAN Optimization to be utilized in this environment. Virtual appliances like BIG-IP LTM VE are resolving that particular issue, extending much of the control you have in the datacenter out to the cloud.

I’ve said before, the times are still changing, you’ll have to stay on top of the new issues that confront you as IT transforms yet again, trying to stay ahead of the curve.

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Published Jul 01, 2011
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