Of Escalators and Network Traffic
Escalators are an interesting first world phenomenon. While not strictly necessary anywhere, they still turn up all over in most first-world countries. The key to their popularity is, no doubt, the fact that they move traffic much more quickly than an elevator, and offer the option of walking to increase the speed to destination even more.
One thing about escalators is that they’re always either going up, or down, in contrast to an elevator which changes direction with each trip.
The same could be said of network traffic. It is definitely moving on the up escalator, with no signs of slackening. The increasing number of devices not just online, but accessing information both inside and outside the confines of the enterprise has brought with it a large increase in traffic. Combine that with increases in new media both inside and outside the enterprise, and you have a spike in growth that the world may never see again. And we’re in the middle of it.
Let’s just take a look at a graph of Internet usage portrayed in a bit of back-and-forth between Rob Beschizza of Boing Boing and Wired magazine. This graphic only goes to 2010, and you can clearly see that the traffic growth is phenomenal.
(side note, Mr. Beschizza’s blog entry is worth reading, as he dissects arguments that the web is dead)
As this increase impacts an organization, there is a series of steps that generally occurs on the path to Application Delivery Networking, and it’s worth recapping here (note, the order can vary).
- First, an application is not performing. Application load balancing is brought in to remedy the problem.
- This step may be repeated, with load balancing widely deployed before...
- Next, Internet connections are overloaded. Link load balancing is brought in to remedy the problem.
- Once the enterprise side is running acceptably, it turns out that wireless devices – particularly cell phones – are slow. Application Acceleration is brought in to solve the problem.
- Application security becomes an issue – either for purchased packages exposed to the world, or internally developed code. A web application firewall is used to solve the problem.
- Remote backups or replication start to slow the systems, as more and more data is collected. WAN Optimization is generally brought in to address the problem.
- For storefronts and other security-enabled applications, encryption becomes a burden on CPUs – particularly in a virtualized environment. Encryption offloading is brought in to solve the problem.
- Traffic management and access control quickly follow – addressed with management tools and SSL VPN.
That is where things generally sit right now, there are other bits, but most organizations haven’t finished going this far, so we’ll skip the other bits for now.
The problem that has even the most forward-thinking companies mostly paused here is complexity. There’s a lot going on in your application network at this point, and the pause to regain control and insight is necessary. An over-arching solution to the complexity that these steps introduce is, while not strictly necessary, a precursor to further taking advantage of the infrastructure available within the datacenter (notice that I have not discussed multi-data center or datacenter to the cloud in this post), some way to control all of this burgeoning architecture from a central location. Some vendors – like F5 (just marketing here) – offer a platform that allows control of these knobs and features, while other organizations will have to look to products like Tivoli or OpenView to tie the parts together.
And while we’re centralizing the management of the application infrastructure, it’s time to consider that separate datacenter or the cloud as a future location to include in the mix. Can the toolset you’re building look beyond the walls of the datacenter and meet your management and monitoring needs? Can it watch multiple cloud vendors? What metrics will you need, and can your tools get them today, or will you need more management?
All stuff to ask while taking that breather. There’s a lot of change going on and it’s always a good idea to know where you’re going in the long run while you’re fighting fires in the short run.
The cost of failing to ask these questions is limited capability to achieve goals in the future – eg: more firefighting. And IT works hard enough, let’s not make it harder than it needs to be.
And don’t hesitate to call your sales rep. They want to give you information about products and try to convince you to buy theirs, it’s what they do. While I can’t speak for other companies, if you get on the phone with an F5 SE, you’ll find that they know their stuff, and can offer help that ranges from defining future needs to meeting current ones.
To you IT pros, I say, keep making business run like they don’t know you’re there. And since they won’t generally tell you, I’ll say “thank you” for them. They have no idea how hard their life would be sans IT.