Buyer's Guide: Network optimisation for cloud computing

Forrester has identified a new architecture called the user experience network (uXn) which connects users to services that are relevant to the moment, aggregated at the point of use, and originate from multiple locations.

Forrester has identified a new architecture called the user experience network (uXn) which connects users to services that are relevant to the moment, aggregated at the point of use, and originate from multiple locations.

Networking is not about applications or technology - it is about users. The business pressure to consolidate IT, support empowered users, and provide customised experiences to customers is stressing today's architectures and reshaping networks. The old approach of building networks around applications is too static. Application delivery networks (ADNs) are not designed to support the user-centric collaboration tools, Web 2.0 tools, and cloud services that are needed to solve today's business challenges.

Just as enterprise human resources are morphing from static and dedicated pools of resources to ones that come and go with the ebb and flow of the business, transports of information will be created and disassembled within nanoseconds.

IT operations teams must design their networks to accommodate this rapidly changing user environment. Today's application delivery networks must be transformed into uXns. As with the web, enterprise networks will be understood not as a single instance solving a specific issue, but as a fluid and intertwined set of functions leveraging the most optimised set of capabilities and resources for the users. Forrester defines a uXn as a network architecture that focuses on monitoring, controlling, and optimising the quality of user experience.

Users could be defined as internal personnel who are working remotely on the road, within the office, or at a branch office - basically, anywhere. They may be connecting and creating a virtual work or personal environment depending on their immediate needs; endless options of hardware and operating systems will be the door that opens into that world.

It is up to the infrastructure to understand the users and vehicles they are using to create the new world. There are customers, suppliers and partners outside your organisation who will demand their own instantaneous virtual world.

To do this they will need a user experience network that has granular visibility to customise services for each user, optimises the transport mechanisms by combining and accelerating the required service and can control the flow based on policies of the business. All three of these capabilities are tied together using a common policy framework designed to set user SLAs.

Building the end-to-end uXn

IT operations must take a page from the virtualisation playbook. Much like what virtualisation did in the datacentre by freeing applications tethered to specific servers, today's network must deliver a set of services untethered from the application infrastructure.

This delivery network must be optimised for the user and not the specific application. Internal personnel, customers, suppliers and partners will connect to business and leverage multiple parts of the infrastructure to get the service they need.

There may be unique considerations and ignition of technology, but fundamentally, there is a large, overlapping set of capabilities among WAN optimisation controllers, application delivery controllers and cloud gateways - such as caching, compression, quality of service and other services - to ensure optimum experience.

Thus, building a uXn requires that you look at all three of these in tandem. Traditionally, companies have deployed these as separate point solutions. Moving forward, a uXn requires universal policies around delivering an end-to-end user experience across these three delivery technologies.

How do you integrate and rationalise this overlap? Focus on virtual appliances, not hardware appliances. WAN optimisation controllers, application delivery controllers, and cloud storage are evolving from point solutions in hardware form into a hybrid appliance that runs software in a virtual machine dispersed over the infrastructure.

This way you can specialise the uXn virtual machine (VM) on the unique aspect of environment in that area but leverage common functionality from another piece. IT operations can then use policy to focus on building end-to-end uXn services for a user rather than on turning on features in a hardware appliance located in a specific datacentre or branch office.

This is an extract from Forrester's Focus Your Network Strategy On User Experience, Not Application Delivery (February 2011) by Andre Kindness, senior analyst at Forrester Research. He contributes to the blog for IT infrastructure and operations professionals.

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