One of the most critical, but often overlooked components in a system is that of the network. Enterprises continue to spend considerable amounts of money on network optimization as part of their core infrastructure. Traditionally, enterprises have controlled much of the network between applications components. Most of the time the different tiers of an application were collocated in the same data center or across multiple data centers and dedicated network connections that the enterprise had control of.
The advent of cloud changed all of that. Now, different tiers of an application may be spread across different locations, running on systems that the enterprise does not control. This lack of control provides a new challenge to network management.
In addition to applications moving, so does the data. As applications and data move beyond the bounds of the enterprise data center, so does the need to address the increasingly dispersed network performance requirements. The question is: How do you still address network performance management with you no longer control the underlying systems and network infrastructure components?
Riverbed is no stranger to Network performance management. Their products are widely used across enterprises today. At Tech Field Day’sCloud Field Day 3, I had the chance to meet up with the Riverbed team to discuss how they are extending their technology to address the changing requirements that cloud brings.
EXTENDING NETWORK PERFORMANCE TO CLOUD
Traditionally network performance management involved hardware appliances that would sit at the edges of your applications or data centers. Unfortunately, in a cloud-based world, the enterprise does not have access to the cloud data center nor network egress points.
Network optimization in cloud requires an entirely different approach. Add to this that application services are moving toward ephemeral behaviors and one can quickly see how this becomes a moving target.
Riverbed takes a somewhat traditional approach to how they address the network performance management problem in the cloud. Riverbed gives the enterprise the option to run their software as either a ‘sidecar’ to the application or as part of the cloud-based container.
EXTENDING THE DATA CENTER OR EMBRACING CLOUD?
There are two schools of thought on how one engages a mixed environment of traditional data center assets along with cloud. The first is to look at extending the existing data center so that the cloud is viewed as simply another data center. The second approach is to change the perspective where the constraints are reduced to the application…or better yet service level. The latter is a construct that is typical in cloud-native applications.
Today, Riverbed has taken the former approach. They view the cloud as another data center in your network. To this point, Riverbed’s SteelFusion product works as if the cloud is another data center in the network. Unfortunately, this only works when you have consolidated your cloud-based resources into specific locations.
Most enterprises are looking at a very fragmented approach to their use of cloud-based resources today. A given application may consume resources across multiple cloud providers and locations due to specific resource requirements. This shows up in how enterprises are embracing a multi-cloud strategy. Unfortunately, consolidation of cloud-based resources works against one of the core value propositions to cloud; the ability to leverage different cloud solutions, resources and tools.
UNDERSTANDING THE RIVERBED PORTFOLIO
During the session with the Riverbed team, it was challenging to understand how the different components of their portfolio work together to address the varied enterprise requirements. The portfolio does contain extensions to existing products that start to bring cloud into the network fold. Riverbed also discussed their Steelhead SaaS product, but it was unclear how it fits into a cloud native application model. On the upside, Riverbed is already supporting multiple cloud services by allowing their SteelConnect Manager product to connect to both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. On AWS, SteelConnect Manager can run as an AWS VPC.
Understanding the changing enterprise requirements will become increasingly more difficult as the persona of the Riverbed buyer changes. Historically, the Riverbed customer was a network administrator or infrastructure team member. As enterprises move to cloud, the buyer changes to the developer and possibly the business user in some cases. These new personas are looking for quick access to resources and tools in an easy to consume way. This is very similar to how existing cloud resources are consumed. These new personas are not accustomed to working with infrastructure nor do they have an interest in doing so.
PROVIDING CLARITY FOR THE CHANGING CLOUD CUSTOMER
Messaging and solutions geared to these new personas of buyers need to be clear and concise. Unfortunately, the session with the Riverbed team was very much focused on their traditional customer; the Network administrator. At times, they seemed to be somewhat confused by questions that addressed cloud native application architectures.
One positive indicator is that Riverbed acknowledged that the end-user experience is really what matters, not network performance. In Riverbed parlance, they call this End User Experience Management (EUEM). In a cloud-based world, this will guide the Riverbed team well as they consider what serves as their North Star.
As enterprise embrace cloud-based architectures more fully, so will the need for Riverbed’s model that drives their product portfolio, architecture and go-to-market strategy. Based on the current state, they have made some inroads, but have a long way to go.
Further Reading: The difference between hybrid and multi-cloud for the enterprise